It might be a relatively small island, but New Zealand is world renowned for being a place of constant and varied surprise. It also has stunning topography, wonderful people and clement weather. One aspect of Aotearoa that many might not be too familiar with is its musical talent – with the exception of the meteoric rise of Lorde, and the hilarious duo act, Flight of the Conchords. To get better acquainted with this nation’s musical talent take a peek at our list, and discover for yourself the artists that have managed to break out of NZ and make a mark on the world.
Whilst classical music is not a genre that gets its fair share of mainstream coverage, there weren’t too many people a few years ago who hadn’t heard of Hayley Westenra. This young woman has quietly – or not so quietly, really – made herself a household name for those who love classical music. In 2003 her debut album, Pure, became the fastest selling album in the UK classical charts ever. She has sung personally to Queen Elizabeth – on four separate occasions – and to Princes Harry and William. She has also performed at such major sporting events as the FA Cup Final, the Mercedes Cup in Los Angles and the Rugby World Cup Final in 2011 when the All Blacks went on to win the title. She’s also collaborated with movie soundtrack royalty, including the extraordinary Ennio Morricone.
Like Hayley Westenra, Brooke Fraser was another one of New Zealand’s musical teenage prodigies. She grew up in the capital, Wellington, and before turning twenty she’d signed with Sony Music. Her first album went down a treat in NZ, going eight times platinum. That album alone resulted in five number one radio singles. Not bad going for a debut album. Most recently she won the award for Best Contemporary Christian Music Performance/Song for ‘What A Beautiful Name’ – which she wrote and performed for worship group Hillsong – at the 2018 Grammy Awards.
Fat Freddy’s Drop
When a band is closing in on performing their 1000th live show, you can rest easy knowing that they probably have their craft pretty well honed. Fat Freddy’s Drop are one of these bands, and with that in mind the best way to experience them is to watch them perform live. If you own a FFD album you will have listened to songs that have been hammered on the anvil of the road, and tempered in the fires of live repetition, and come out the other side all shiny and strong. They’re well-loved all over Europe, as well as in Australasia. With their juicy blend of jazz, hip-hop, reggae and a heap of other influences, this seven-piece band is one not to miss.
Glastonbury, The Big Chill, Big Day Out and Parklife, these are some of the major festivals that Shapeshifter have rocked over the years. These boys hail from Christchurch, and with their drum & bass, jazz, funk, rock and electronica influenced beats, they really know how to put on a show. Their music is well-adapted to massive crowds, but it’s also great listened to through a fantastic pair of headphones, sat in a beanbag, with a glass of wine, after a hard day at work. It’s music that will transport you to a galaxy far, far away. The perfect tunes to get revved up for the weekend.
There’s probably not a lot that needs saying about this young woman who has taken the music industry by storm over the past few years. From having her first track, Royals, played on ad-free and student radio when she was seventeen to playing at Coachella, Lorde has grown and grown. She’s been nominated for a Golden Globe, won a couple of Grammy Awards, a Brit Award and ten New Zealand Music Awards. Her songs have garnered tens and tens of millions of views on TouTube and she is also the youngest artist to achieve a number one hit on the U.S. Billboard 100 since 1987. Her music is so accessible to every ear that it’s of little surprise that she is one of the most successful musical artists of her generation. The only question is, what’s she going to do next.
Christchurch seems to churn out the musical talent on a fairly reliable basis, and Anika Moa is another prime example of the quality that the Garden City seems to nuture. She’s been nominated and won a host of New Zealand Music Awards including Top Female Vocalist, Songwriter of the Year and Best Female Solo Artist. She spent time recording an album in New York, such was her popularity, but became disillusioned with how she was being marketed in America. She returned home afterwards and earned a lot of recognition for her album, Thinking Room.
Bic Runga is one of those incredibly talented individuals who can play a host of instruments and has the voice of a nightingale. She cracked the NZ music secene at the tender age of twenty with her acclaimed album, Drive, which was released in 1997. Her music has made it overseas and into such (now) classic movies as American Pie. She has legions of fans all over Europe and Asia thanks to her phenomenally popular track, Sway. In January 2006, The Queen made Runga a member of the New Zealand Order of Merit in the New Zealand New Year’s Honours List.
The Mint Chicks
Although they broke up in 2010 after a ridiculous last concert, in which Kody Nielson –the drummer – destroyed two drum-kits and told the audience to “… start your own f*cking band,” The Mint Chicks were pretty entertaining to watch rise for about nine years. They alternated their time between Auckland and Portland, Oregon, where they played support spots for the likes of The White Stripes and TV on the Radio. They released some great tracks, including the wildly popular, Crazy? Yes! Dumb? No! It was their antics on stage that cemented their notoriety overseas though, with such incidents as wielding a chainsaw on stage and cutting apart a corporate sponsor’s sign with it, proving most memorable. That’s proper punk-rock.
Dave Dobbyn is arguably the Kiwi musician who has had the biggest impact on popular music for New Zealand. Many of his songs have acted as soundtracks to New Zealander’s lives over the years. His band, Th’ Dudes, rocketed to fame in the late 1970s with their track, Bliss, which was basically a song dedicated to the joy of drinking beer. Unsurprisingly this tune is still hugely popular, hailed as a genuine Kiwi classic and is regularly put forward as a replacement for the current national anthem. Check out his hits, Loyal and Welcome Home, if you want a taste of what presses a New Zealander’s nostalgia button.
Kimbra is another household name, not just in New Zealand, but all over the globe. She came to the world’s attention after working with Gotye on the absurdly popular and successful Somebody That I Used To Know. If YouTube hits are to be used as a yard-stick then that track should be a sign that Kimbra has done alright – it’s had over one billion plays… Yeah. Not bad, really, for a girl from Hamilton. She’s released two albums and her third, Primal Heart, is set to be released in April 2018. If you’re yet to listen to Kimbra’s music and want an idea of what she has in store for your eardrums, her influences include Prince, Bjork and Jeff Buckley.