Maori Queen of Blues & Soul Makuini talks about the slow toughness and fighting spirit of blues

"Blues in to-day’s musical climate has a small existence, its followers the devoted few. The young generation doesn’t find it appealing. For it to survive you need young musicians connecting with their own generation."

Mākuini: Blues Waves In Pacific Ocean

Mākuini Wright (pronounced Mā Queenie, the name means White Queen) was introduced at a young age to the sounds of Mahalia Jackson, Etta James, Sarah Vaughan, and Ella Fitzgerald. The story starts not on the Mississippi delta but on the banks of the Whanganui River, in the rural village of Jerusalem, New Zealand. With her sister Heeni accompanying her on guitar, Mākuini entered Maori community and national festival competitions leading to a Maori Education Foundation Grant, which allowed her to study music in the city of Auckland.

Mākuini became an established singer, dancer and actress both on stage and with appearances in television drama, radio, and light entertainment shows. She is now based in UK and toured venues in Fiji, Samoa, Cook Islands, Tahiti, Hawaii and Los Angeles.

Not long after arriving in the U.K Mākuini was cast opposite Yul Brynner in the ‘King & I’ at the London Palladium. One of the high lights of her career being her appearance in the Royal Variety Show for Her Majesty The Queen, at The Theatre Royal Drury Lane. Over the years she has presented her ‘Ladies of Soul’ in residencies throughout the Europe, Dubai and Cruise Ships around the world.

Mākuini has had the honour of performing her countries national anthem at the openings of Great Britain vs New Zealand Rugby League. She gained her CT.VCM and is now a most sought after vocal coach. It is the pull of her first love, Blues and Jazz, that brings her back to her roots, with her EP, 'Roll of The Dice'. It is not only her remarkable voice but her drive and personality that have made Mākuini one of New Zealand’s best loved singers around the world today. Her new album 'Blues In The Bone' released through all major download sites.

Interview by Michael Limnios

How do you describe Makuini’s sound and progress? What characterize your music and life philosophy?  

Soulful with life story lyrics, with a slow ballad or up beat groove. Music in general has made me a career both as a performer and teacher and I still find fresh ideas to work with. Value what you have with passion.

What do you learn about yourself from the blues and what does the blues mean to you?

A slow toughness and a fighting spirit. The Blues allows me to have my say.

"Maori has always embraced all styles of music the blues included with the dedicated few. However the younger generation has become more interest in popular music. Since the mid 70s in general the Maori has developed a love and connection to Bob Marley and his music. New Zealand has some of the best Reggae bands I’ve ever heard." Photo by Simon Brown

What experiences in your life make you a good artist and songwriter?

Being in the right place at the right time and being able to follow it up and stay there. Life experience and hours of practice – Working continuously with different musicians both in England and abroad is the best reward anyone can achieve.

Which is the most interesting period in your life? Which was the best and worst moment of your career?

Working at the London Palladium for 2 years in the musical The King & I with Yul Brynner and Virginia McKenna was extremely interesting. Seeing up close how great actors develop their character. The worst moment losing our music equipment at Miami airport.

Why did you think that the Soul and Blues music continues to generate such a devoted following?

Soul and blues work hand in hand and will always create a following – its form connects with the ordinary day man.

Do you remember anything funny from your experiences and shows around the world?

In Malta I was working on a rising stage, when my high heel catches between a gap. I fall out of my shoe onto the stage so did the 2 opening songs on my knees with one shoe on, holding onto the mic stand.

What do you miss most nowadays from the past?

Can’t say I do - just live and love life to the full.

What are your hopes and fears for the future?

That live work continues for every working musician. Fears – freedom of speech taken away.

"Soul and blues work hand in hand and will always create a following – its form connects with the ordinary day man."

What has made you laugh lately and what touched (emotionally) you?

Phoenix Nights a Television comedy series about life in Working Men’s club, my training ground as a musician singer in the north of England. The result of war and the effect it has on children.

What is the best advice ever given you and what advice would you give to new generation?

Work hard play hard, there’s no gain with out pain and be your self. I give the same advice to the new generation.

You are also known of your work with Maori community. What is the relation between music and activism? What would be your first decisions as minister of education?

Maori and our Polynesian brothers have a natural ability to create music both for the lord and to speak their mind- covering all aspects of social life. Music and song can be a powerful tool. I recall going on my first Maori land march back in the 70’s that was an experience I shall never forget, it seemed all of NZ came out in protest. In this case the march worked and Maori retained their land. As minister of Education I would bring back apprenticeship courses as we had in the 50s and 60s.

What are the lines that connect the legacy of Blues culture with Maori roots music and culture?

Maori has always embraced all styles of music the blues included with the dedicated few. However the younger generation has become more interest in popular music. Since the mid 70s in general the Maori has developed a love and connection to Bob Marley and his music. New Zealand has some of the best Reggae bands I’ve ever heard.

"Soulful with life story lyrics, with a slow ballad or up beat groove. Music in general has made me a career both as a performer and teacher and I still find fresh ideas to work with. Value what you have with passion."

Make an account for current realities of the case of the blues in New Zealand and Pacific Ocean Islands?

There are blues musicians and blue clubs throughout New Zealand & Polynesia. Each island has its own indigenous music with a strong interest in modern - R & B and hip hop.

When we talk about blues usually refer moments of the past. Do you believe in the existence of real blues nowadays?

Blues in to-day’s musical climate has a small existence, its followers the devoted few. The young generation doesn’t find it appealing. For it to survive you need young musicians connecting with their own generation.

Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go for a whole day..?

The Easter islands. To complete my ancestral triangle. New Zealand - Hawaii - Easter Islands.

Makuini - official website

Photo by Simon Brown

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