Anna Get Your Gun

ARTS, Features, Interviews, Music
Anna Pinenga Coddington’s Maori side.

At Auckland’s Shaky Isles cafe, the girl from Tuwharetoa is pumped about her new varied collaborations. The ataahua singer korero ‘T Shirt’, Te Reo, Tuhoe, and Taupo with Alexander Bisley. Dubbed Pania of the Streets, ‘Bird in Hand’s imminent rap dabbler is both staunch and charming, European and Maori, scholarly and witty. Photography by James Black.

Purea nei e te hau / Scattered by the wind
Horoia e te ua / washed by the rain
Whitiwhitia e te ra / and transformed by the sun,
Mahea ake nga poraruraru / all doubts are swept away
Makere ana nga here. / and all restrains are cast down.

E rere wairua, e rere / Fly O free spirit, fly
Ki nga ao o te rangi / to the clouds in the heavens,
Whitiwhitia e te ra / transformed by the sun,
Mahea ake nga poraruraru / with all doubts swept away
Makere ana nga here, / and all restrains cast down.
Makere ana nga here. / Yes, all restrains are cast down.

ALEXANDER BISLEY: A beautiful, lesser known Anna Coddington song is your version of ‘Purea Nei’. My great grandmother was a direct descendant of Ngapuhi paramount chief Patuone. In one version of the story ‘Purea Nei’ is about Ngapuhi chief Ueoneone’s courting two Waikato wahine. “Ueoneone sent a bird to the Waikato to carry the sisters northward. However, when the bird landed near present-day Whangarei, Reipae fell in love with a chief named Otahuhupotiki, and married him.”

ANNA CODDINGTON: I always thought it was about somebody’s spirit after they die.

AB: In any case, you’ve got exceptionally good pronunciation.

AC: Kia Ora! [smiles radiantly and humorously, pauses] You’ll find a lot of Maori people my age have the same story, which is that we don’t speak Maori because our parents weren’t taught to speak Maori, because their parents were punished at school for speaking Maori. I studied at the AUT night classes, which was really cool. As a linguist, I think language is really precious and it’s a bee in my bonnet that Maori is such an effort to learn in the one country in the world where it’s spoken. You really have to go out of your way to learn to speak it because it was cut off at the knees in one generation.

I would love to be fluent in Te Reo. There are courses you can do that are full-immersion, but they really have to be full on full-immersion. I’ve got a few friends who have done them and they say you can’t do anything else at the same time. You need to take a year to just do that. Go to really remote communities and be forced to use Te Reo all day, only speak Maori. So it’s something I’d like to do but I’d need to find a spare year.

AB: You have to go and immerse yourself in Mitimiti or Ruatoki?

AC: Exactly. But I’ve been thinking about doing night classes again, going over them again, to refresh. It’s good now we’ve got Maori TV and a few other resources like that.

AB: Have you been to Tuhoe? Rain of the Children director Vincent Ward says you’re “wonderful.”

AC: I’ve been there once, we did a karate camp down at Ruatahuna Marae. There’s this kaumatua that lives down there, Sempai Temara. He used to be one of our countries top fighters back in the ’80s, but he hasn’t been training for years. A couple of our senior guys in Wellington were like “let’s do this fighters camp” because there were people training for the world tournament at that time. So we all went down there and stayed on this marae and got up at like five in the morning and did four training sessions a day. It was amazing. There was this group of rangatahi that had been doing kickboxing from one of the neighbouring marae and they were all naturals, they had this real natural fighters’ spirit, with the right attitude.

The thing I loved about being down there was how it was a place where everyone speaking Maori, that was their first language. And they all sing these songs that went on for ages and there’s three-year-old kids who know every word. Because they grow up with it, and they have a direct line to the past through their language, which has never been broken.

“As a linguist, I think language is really precious and it’s a bee in my bonnet that Maori is such an effort to learn in the one country in the world where it’s spoken. You really have to go out of your way to learn to speak it because it was cut off at the knees in one generation.”

AB: When were you down there?

AC: It was August 2010. It was so beautiful to see how it was so natural. It was their life, no one had to make the effort to be this or that, it was just done. Their culture is so solidly intact, not even staunch, just normal. I don’t think anyone ever went in there and made people scrub the floor with the toothbrush because they were speaking Maori. They retain their autonomy.

AB: You’re still passionate about language as social function?

AC: Oh shit yeah. Definitely, I mean, I spent five years studying that concept [laughs], I love linguistics, it really fascinates me. Sociolinguistics is what I ended up doing my thesis in and that is all about the most practical angle of linguistics, about social attitudes towards the way people speak [adopts ‘Boy’ accent]. Here, if a kid at school talks like this, their teacher might think they’re dumber than some of the other kids in the class, but it’s not true at all. It doesn’t give you any indication of intelligence or anything like that. All it tells you is how someone speaks. So that’s what I liked about sociolinguistics, is a lot of people in the field are about breaking down those misconceptions. That’s something that still gets me worked up, people are like “it’s not proper English.” I’m like, “well, what is proper English? Show me who speaks proper English. Is it the Queen? Is it someone in America?”

AB: You did your Masters comparing two Anika Moa albums, the American one and the New Zealand one?

AC: No, I did one paper for my honours year on Anika. My lecturer loved that paper, so she talked to me into expanding it for my Masters thesis. I was listening really closely to a whole bunch of albums for specific linguistic variables, and thinking about whether people pronounce them in a New Zealand way, or another way. Then I interviewed them to find out the reasons why that would be, and then drew my conclusions, roughly over the course of an entire year. And then as a singer I would go to sing those variables and just be thinking “am I singing it like a New Zealander or not?” It did my head in because I was thinking about it all too much.

AB: Were you friends with your houseguest before you wrote that paper?

AC: Anika and me have been friends since we were in the Rockquest together, 1998. She’s one of my best friends. Potty-mouth, relentlessly funny, I love her.

AB: Quite a full on guest?

AC: Yeah! [laughs, pauses] Anything for a mate.

AB: With The Lake’s ‘The Lake’, is that Lake Taupo?

AC: In my mind it’s Lake Taupo, yes. I don’t often write super super specific, to the letter, this-actually-happened songs. They might start like that. ‘The Lake’ is definitely about the feeling that I have about that place feeling safe for me, somewhere that’s always there for me.

AB: Tell me about your connection with Tuwharetoa’s Waihi Marae?

AC: Waihi Marae is my marae, my mum grew up there and we always went back there as kids. It’s a very special place for me. But ‘The Lake’ is also about going down to Western Springs Park a lot, a safe place for me, too. I like to run around there and just be down there next to the lakes even though they’re gross, they’re full of duck shit. I find the presence of water very calming maybe because I grew up by the sea, I find being by a body of water very relaxing.

AB: Growing up seaside in Raglan City, you knew the Datsuns before they were world famous?

AC: Way before. They’re good friends those Datsuns guys, I grew up with them. My band Handsome Geoffery used to play gigs with them when I was 16, they were called Trinket back then. We used to use the same rehearsal space in Cambridge. Guitarist Phil is married to one of my best friends from high school, they’ve just had a baby last week. He’s a beautiful human being. I’m supposed to visit them tomorrow [two weeks ago] but I’ve got this cold so I don’t know if I’ll be able to now.

AB: Anna Coddington is not a name people expect for a Maori singer?

AC: People have been telling me that when I was first starting out, trying to talk me into changing my name but fuck, what do you change your name to?

AB: Your name’s your name.

AC: What do you change it to, Crazy Chick? You’ve got to live with it the rest of your career. Occasionally I kinda wish I had, if only to save space on my posters. But I’m very indecisive, I hate naming my songs or my albums, picking a name for myself would be quite an ask. I did think about changing my name to Codds because that’s what lots of people call me, but I don’t know if that’s any better.

AB: Do you have a middle name?

AC: Pinenga. It’s Maori but doesn’t have a specific meaning. It’s a family name from Te Arawa.

“Waihi Marae is my marae, my mum grew up there and we always went back there as kids. It’s a very special place for me. I find the presence of water very calming. Maybe because I grew up by the sea, I find being by a body of water very relaxing.”

AB: Your contribution to the Rattle Ya Dags series had good advice for people, like your autobiographical song, ‘Never Change’.

AC: I try to deny that’s autobiographical but yeah, it was.

AB: The idea you got to be yourself resonates.

AC: That’s something I like about that song—if people don’t listen to it properly they think it’s just a love song, but you got it.

AB: ‘T Shirt’, “It’s a lovely idea/beauty exploding from despair,” that’s cool, as is your quirky sense of humour. You were at an awkward party, didn’t know anyone there, and wearing that T-shirt of a girl with a gun to her head and a flock of red butterflies flying out.

AC:  I ended up just talking about the T-shirt all night because I didn’t know anyone and I felt really uncomfortable and out-of-place, and I went home and wrote a song about it. I sent the artist that did the picture the video, and he said he loved it and he sent me a signed print of that image, with a little note to me. I was stoked. I’ve got it framed hanging on the wall in my lounge.

AB: Do you have other meaningful memorabilia?

AC: Lots of cool stuff given to me over the years. Some really cool fan art, someone once gave me this amazing book called called Tangi. It’s quite an old New Zealand book, beautiful black and white sketches. I worked with Bic Runga for a few years, and she’s really lovely. Anika and I were doing backing vocals for her and she took us under her wing, took us on this song writing retreat to Mahia. She hired this big house and we all went there, us three and Shayne Carter, and wrote songs. We girls didn’t actually write any songs, we just hung out, but Shayne wrote nearly a whole album. For my 25th birthday she made me this mother-of-pearl necklace, half-circle shape with jagged edges.

AB: When’s the new ‘Purea Nei’ coming out?

AC: If I got asked to do another project like that, I’d love to. I think Te Reo should be compulsory in schools, because it’s not a stretch for kids to learn some language. New Zealand’s very monolingual on a world scale. There are not many countries in the world where everyone only speaks one language. There are lots of people who wouldn’t want their kids to, not that I can see why they wouldn’t.

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© James Black 2013. All Rights Reserved. More images at blackphotographic.

More about Anna Coddington at annacoddington.com. This is part two of a three part interview. Part three is scheduled for July. Thanks to Alice May Connolly and Kimaya McIntosh for some transcription assistance.
When on assignment in Auckland, The Lumière Reader stays at the five-star Pullman Auckland.

Filed under: ARTS, Features, Interviews, Music

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Alexander Bisley is an editor-at-large who has contributed in-depth interviews and more to The Lumière Reader since 2004. He’s written extensively on culture (and sport) for all of New Zealand’s leading outlets, and also makes his living freelancing for international publications including The Guardian, Slate, and The AV Club. He’s published by The Independent, BBC, Vice, The Sydney Morning Herald, Playboy, and Slate France, and has been paid once by The New Yorker.