> Skip to content

Article  •  12 October 2021

 

Kia Kaha profile - Hirini Melbourne

Hirini never thought he would become a musician. He couldn't read music, but he was good at listening and very dedicated, so he taught himself.

HIRINI MELBOURNE | MUSICIAN, MĀORI CULTURE CHAMPION

1949-2003 | NGĀI TUHOE, NGĀTI KAHUNGUNU 

Illustration by Ms Meemo

Kia mau rā, kia mau rā, ki te mana motuhake me te aroha. 

Hold steadfast to self-determination and compassion. 

 

Hirini Melbourne grew up in Rūātoki, fascinated by the creatures in Tāne's forest. His mother especially loved hens and ducks, and together they would walk through the bush on the edge of Te Urewera, observing the world and the sounds all around them. 

Hirini was surrounded by Māori speakers - the school teachers were some of the few English speakers in the area- and he absorbed all the teachings he could before he went off and studied to become a teacher himself. 

A few years later, Hirini had children of his own, Mahina and Māia. At night he would sing them nursery rhymes, but after a while he got bored of cows jumping over the moon and mice running up clocks. He wanted to teach his tamariki about the things outside their window, about birds and butterflies and whakapapa, even trains, and to sing to them in te reo Māori. 

Hirini never thought he would become a musician. He couldn't read music, but he was good at listening and very dedicated, so he taught himself. As it turned out, over time, he developed a magical power - he could make instruments sing alongside his words. 

One day, Hirini sat down with a kuia who knew lots of old waiata about birds. They exchanged songs and Hirini developed more. His friend who worked in radio recorded some of them and, when he played them to other people at the radio station, they all went 'Wow!'

Soon Hirini's waiata were being played on the radio and in schools across Aotearoa. His music was teaching the next generation, even if some of them couldn't understand all the words. 

Hirini was an excellent teacher, but remember that teachers still love learning too. In 1985, Hirini discovered a collection of taonga puoro in the National Museum. 'These instruments are amazing! The sounds are beautiful!' he thought. There was the nguru, which can be played with your nose; the pūtātara, which is made from a shell; the small flute called a kōauau; and so many more. Hirini began to learn about them whenever he had the chance. 

In the past, only tohunga could play these instruments, and as time passed many of them ended up sitting in museums. 'We must take them out of their glass cases,' Hirini said. And with help of his friends Richard Nunns and Brian Flintoff, he made it his mission to ensure these beautiful instruments were played and that their voices were heard. He travelled around Aotearoa, doing what he loved to do - teaching and sharing- and bringing taonga puoro back to life once more. 

More features

See all
Article
Five of the most beautiful beasts from A Load of Bull

Take a sneak peek at some of our favourite bovine beauties from Amanda King’s awesome new photographic book, A Load of Bull, out now!

Article
The book that made John Green want to become a BookTokker

Learn all about John Green’s BookTok recommendation: Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow

Article
DK Eyewitness bookseller guide

Explore DK's revitalised travel list, covering everything local and abroad.

Article
DK Catalogue 2022

Be inspired by DK's vast array of wonderful books in our 2022 catalogue.

Article
Love Dolly Alderton? This is what you should read after Everything I Know About Love

Wondering what to read after Everything I Know About Love? If you’re a fan of Dolly Alderton’s first book, then you’ll love her second book: Ghosts. Learn all about it and discover more similar titles.

Article
Meet the 6 most important characters from The Summer I Turned Pretty

Meet the characters from The Summer I Turned Pretty books. Learn about the main characters and important family members who play a role in the trilogy.

Article
Quiz: Which The Summer I Turned Pretty character am I?

Take this quiz to find out which character you’re most like from The Summer I Turned Pretty.

Article
The easy breathing technique that will help reduce your anxiety

These five easy steps will teach you how to do square breathing for anxiety. Using this simple mindfulness tool can help lower your heart rate and curb anxious thoughts the moment they arise.

Article
Find your perfect winter read!

Temperatures are dropping, the nights are getting darker and it’s the perfect time to find a cozy spot to curl up with a good book . . .

Article
Lynette Noni shares sage advice for developing lifelike characters

Lynette Noni, bestselling author of YA fantasy The Prison Healer trilogy shares how she creates unforgettable characters that feel like real people.

Article
Real readers review: Faraway Girl

What do NZ YA fans really think of Fleur Beale's latest book?

Article
QUIZ: Which Emily Henry book should you read?

If you're a fan of contemporary romance with humour and wit, you've probably heard of Emily Henry - find out which of her novels you should pick up with this handy quiz!

Looking for more articles?

See all articles