Jen Cloher has shared a striking new single titled ‘Mana Takatāpui’ – a celebratory slow-burner about celebrating queerness as a Māori woman – alongside the full details of their long-awaited fifth album.
The Melbourne-based artist shared a personal letter alongside the track, explaining that the song came about after delving into the history of takatāpuitanga (the Māori term for queer culture). The story goes that in 2019, Cloher typed the phrase “Māori word for queer” into Google and discovered the term takatāpui, which they then took to a virtual Māori dictionary to hear intoned.
“It was beautiful,” Cloher wrote. “The extended ‘ahh‘ after the k, giving it a luxuriousness as it rolled off the speaker’s tongue. I marvelled at the idea of one word that could explain my sexuality, gender and cultural identity. What an incredible language!
“The next day on a walk with a queer, trans Samoan friend, I told them of my new discovery. I took a deep breath remembering the speaker on my app and said ‘takataapui‘ aloud for the first time. A sense of belonging ensued, like a question being answered. There was a warmth in my chest, the feeling was pride.”
The song ‘Mana Takatāpui’ arrives today (November 9) alongside a film clip, directed by Annelise Hickey, that Cloher noted was made with a cast of their “heroes” – “those who continue to weave our takatāpuitanga by standing tall”. Among them, they said, include “members of the legendary Pōneke (Wellington)-based Tiwhanawhana Kapa Haka, who formed 30 years ago as a place for takatāpui to stand proud in our tikanga (cultural practices)”.
The clip also features non-binary model Tangaroa Paul, choreographer Jacob Tamata, Māori drag queen trio The Tiwhas, and non-binary activist Quack Pirihi. A section of the clip was filmed on the steps of NZ Parliament Greens MP Dr. Elizabeth Kerekere, which Cloher said is significant because Kerekere’s “PhD and accompanying whāriki (weaving) ‘Mana Takatāpui’ inspired the name of this song”.
Have a look at the video below:
Expounding on the themes of ‘Mana Takatāpui’, Cloher continued in their letter: “I’m no expert but I’m guessing Māori pre-colonisation didn’t hold the same beliefs around gender and sexuality as Queen Victoria’s England.
“I’ve read that our men were hands on dedicated fathers and some of our best midwives; that our women fought side by side on the battlefield and that our wāhine atua (female gods) held as much mana (power and respect) as our tāne atua. Christianity came hand in hand with colonisation; Their missionaries introducing the concepts of body shame, sexual repression, a woman’s menstrual cycle as impure, homosexuality as a perversion and gender as binary.
“Even though I have spent most of my life away from my land – making this album and clip has been a true homecoming. It is on my matrilineal moana (ocean) Whangaroa Harbour in Te Tai Tokerau (Northland NZ) that you can see me sailing along and singing while playing my Aunty Maera’s guitar.
“I hope [‘Mana Takatāpui’] becomes the anthem takatāpui can sing at the top of their lungs in the car, cleaning the house, at the club (remixed!) or at the next Pride day. This song is for all of us. The joyful celebration we need and deserve right now.”
‘Mana Takatāpui’ comes as the first preview of Cloher’s fifth album, also announced today with the title ‘I Am The River, The River Is Me’ and set for release on March 3 via Milk! Records (which Cloher co-runs) and Remote Control. It serves as the follow-up to their eponymous 2017 album, as well as the (also eponymous) 2019 debut from Dyson Stringer Cloher – the trio of them, Mia Dyson and Liz Stringer.
Have a look at the cover art and tracklisting for ‘I Am The River, The River Is Me’ below, then find pre-orders for it here.
1. ‘Mana Takatāpui’
3. ‘My Witch’
4. ‘Being Human’
5. ‘I Am The River, The River Is Me’
6. ‘Protest Song’
7. ‘The Wild’
8. ‘Aroha Mai, Aroha Atu’
9. ‘He Toka-Tu-Moana’
10. ‘I Am Coming Home’
Cloher first spoke about their new album last September, when they revealed that it would feature songs sung in te reo Māori. In an interview on the podcast Hit Different, they explained that the record will centre around her Māori ancestry, with the “heart of the album” being their “matrilineal line”.
They said at the time: “It’s kind of wild to see this unbroken line, and I’ve always felt it but I think… having the diasporic experience of growing up in this country – I was born and raised here – is I had this idea I had to earn being Māori.”