He Tangata

Stephen Hay

Photograph Errik Wong

Stephen Hay (Ngāi Tūāhuriri – Ngāi Tahu) is a singer/songwriter and musician, originally from Northland. In an email, his mother outlines what she knows of his whakapapa.

“Your great great great grandmother was Irahapeti who was the daughter of a chief, who lived at Kaipoi, near Christchurch. During the Maori wars, the North Island chief Te Rauparaha came down to deal with our tribe and since he had muskets, basically slaughtered our people. Irahapeti escaped inland with a few others and made her way to Riverton at the bottom of the South Island, where she lived and eventually married a white man, Captain Stevens. They had two children, Rachel, your great great grandmother, and her brother, before Irahapeti died.
Captain Stevens remarried a white woman who decided to send Rachel and her brother to boarding school. I don’t think she appreciated having to look after two half caste step children.
Rachel settled in Christchurch with her husband, and had 15 children, one of whom was your great grandmother Ivy Kathleen Skelton who moved to Takapuna and had four children, one of whom was your nana, Kathleen Janice (Jan Witheford).”

In 2008 he travelled to London on his OE, but fell in love with the city and ended up staying for five years. During that time he started writing and performing his own songs, and ran live music nights to showcase his and his friends’ music. He completed a contemporary music degree at the London Centre for Contemporary Music (LCCM), and released his debut EP and studio live video series For A Time -— a homage to his experiences in London. Following a successful launch party, he’s now back in New Zealand to plan his next steps.

What constitutes a good day?

Any day I get some proper sunlight -— I’m still buzzing about how much sun we get here! British weather can get pretty depressing.

One thing you could not live without?
My beautiful beaten-up acoustic. We’ve been around the world a couple of times now, and I can’t really imagine being without it.

Who or what inspires you and why?
Knowing that I’m unconditionally loved and accepted by God is a big one for me -–— it shapes who I am and how I interact with people. I don’t know about “’inspired’” exactly, in an artistic sense -–— that comes more from people, places and situations I find myself in. But every good thing I believe comes from God, and that keeps me going and makes me want to be, and do better.

Highlight in the last year and why?
It was so incredible to finally finish and release my EP, and play one last showcase gig before I left London. That night was a culmination of a lot of hard work -— editing, projecting, more editing, artwork, rehearsals … it was real special playing the new arrangements with my band to a full house. Now I’ve just gotta sell the thing!

What is your greatest extravagance?

I’ve been an international student for three years, so I’m a bit of a scrooge! Although I did buy a super-nice hard-shell suitcase right before I left -–— spent well over my budget, but it’s proven itself already. If I have my way, it’ll get a lot of use over the next few years.

Favourite way to chill out? Favourite place?
I like to get outside in my downtime -— I’m staying right by Mt Eden, which has some beautiful bush tracks and epic views over Auckland. I like to explore and find new places, as opposed to always going back to somewhere familiar. Probably says something about me as a person.

Dance or wallflower?
Wallflower. I’d much rather be playing the music -— I can’t dance! My expression of enjoying good music is playing along, which isn’t always practical on the dance floor.

What food could you not live without?
A massive bowl of fruit and muesli for breakfast. How some people skip breakfast I’ll never understand.

What meal do you cook the most?
Probably Spaghetti Bolognese, or some sort of curry and rice. I’m one of those big-batch cooks/eaters – I’ll cook once and eat leftovers all week.

Greatest achievement?
I’m pretty stoked about graduating with first class honours. I put a lot of work into my degree, and I got a lot out of it. In the end it’s just a piece of paper, but what I learnt over those three years has really challenged me and changed the way I think about music.

Do you have an aspiration for Ngāi Tahu to achieve by 2025?
I’d like to see Ngāi Tahu make ways for people like me who have lost links with a local rūnanga, or live throughout the world, to stay or get connected with their Ngāi Tahu whānau.