WAI are proud ambassadors for a cultural renaissance that is taking place right across the Pacific, from the explosion in the Hawaiian recording industry to the Land Of The Long White Cloud, better known as Aotearoa / New Zealand. The indigenous language of this country is Maori and 'wai' means water.
The group's debut album Wai100% charmed critics at both ends of the earth and plenty of places in between. At home, it has already won a string of awards for its innovative left field approach, and the recognition has been spreading around the world, with two nominations for the BBC World Music Awards in 2002 and some intensive touring since, with dazzling performances around Europe and North America since 2003, and yet another tour and a new album in the works for 2006.
The music of WAI is a startlingly original combination of the ancient and the modern, with its roots in Maoritanga (Maori culture) and its proverbial finger on the pulse of cutting edge technology. It combines traditional Maori song forms and vocal techniques with contemporary pop styles like hip hop, reggae, funk and R&B. It's also one of the first ever internationally released albums sung entirely in Maori. Perhaps most original of all is the way the beats used on the album are largely synthesised from organic samples like breathing, heartbeats, body slaps and poi. These are tight balls of plant fibre twirled on long strings in traditional Maori performing arts ceremonies - prized as much for their visual as their percussive effects. But this is not all: ever resourceful, WAI have also developed an acoustic set, where Maori vocals come alive to simple but highly effective arrangements of live percussion and poi beats. They have also perfected their workshop skills, in particular teaching kids and young people the secrets of poi, which has become a very successful sideline in their touring work.
At the core of WAI are singer/writer Mina Ripia and producer/musician Maaka McGregor, joined by long term collaborators and fellow musicians Gaynor Rikihana, Corrie Brooking and Desmond Mallon. With their music WAI are deconstructing stereotypes of Maori culture and reclaiming the past while embracing the future: "This album is our own very modern interpretation of what our tupuna (ancestors) did," Maaka explains. "And we're hoping that our elders may actually hear a connection", adds Mina.
Live performances feature amazing vocal harmonies and a stunning, confident stage presence led by Mina, Gaynor and Corrie, and are also showcasing poi, the elabotrate Maori body percussion technique. WAI on stage are an energizing, soulful experience, a band very much 'alive', effortlessly linking the past and the future of Maori heritage.