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LIVE BLUES INFO TALKS TO NEW ZEALAND JAZZ AND BLUES SINGER MAKUINI

 Makuini, who was born in New Zealand, has toured the world singing, starred in the West End in the King and I opposite Yul Brynner, sung for the Queen at the Royal Variety Performance, and starred in TV shows. She may be a new name to many people but her latest release is already gaining her massive interest within the world of blues.

 Makuini

What was it like growing up as the oldest of fourteen children in New Zealand?

 

I was born on the banks of Whanganui river, in the heartland of the north island, similar almost to the Mississippi delta where paddle steam boats, river trading and the bustle of canoes up an down the river from nearby villages still existed. Till I was 4 years old dad dressed me as a boy shaved head and made me where shorts, he had to wait for the fifth child to be born before he got his boy. I’d be by his side when he was out on the farm mending fences. Cutting down gorse and milking until Nana Emma Dads Mum stepped in taking me away for the next 7 years bringing me up in the city of Whanganui. That life was so colourful and exciting.

 

Coming from a Maori village I was painfully shy of any stranger that was not family especially if a pakeha (white person) walked in the room, I would hide behind my Nanas skirts. Nana soon put a stop to that and between her and Uncle Tommy they taught me to play the guitar and ukulele, tap dance and sing.

 

I was taken to the cinema and variety shows and yes we had electricity and not the loud generator and candles. Sadly this all came to a sudden halt as Nana feel ill and I was reunited with my parents who had now moved to Rangataua -  I grew up fast as I became a surrogate mum to my sibling brothers and sisters 10 and counting.

 

Church, Music and Sport were our outlet. Sister Heeni and I would write tunes and lyrics together with our 3 chord bread and butter compositions as we called them and teach the rest of the family. The nearest church was 10 miles away so church service was held in our house and neighbouring families would join the service. We had Tennis courts next door and were all good players. We had to be as Dad was a keen sportsman from Tennis, Rugby Union to Boxing. We had a special gym room that he worked out and yes we all had boxing sessions with him. We grew up making music for the church and being competitive in sport.

 

Who were your earliest blues heroes?  How did you hear about them and why were they so influential?

 

T–Bone Walker, Muddy Waters, BB King, Elvis Presley comes to mind as my Uncle Tommy and Dad both played guitar, sang and emulated these artists. The lady singers Ma Rainey, Bessi Smith, Jewel Brown, were my Nanas favourite singers. Nana would make me tap dance to their tunes – if I got it wrong out came the manuka stick. I was introduced to the voice of Billy Holiday’s weeping voice, Sister Rosetta Tharpe and her awesome guitar playing – Mahalia Jackson an almighty gospel singer and Koko Taylor when we eventually got our first TV set in the early 60’s. Their style and voice quality had me listening. It was during this period that Maori entertainers, vocal- multi-instrumental were developing well polished shows that were accepted in Las Vegas and London. By the mid 60’s early 70’s I was listening to Janis Joplin an Etta James.

 

You travelled the world with your music, tell us about that experience. 

 

Sometimes very exhausting and all too soon it’s over. You are so concerned with the politics of planned schedules, that it takes away the reason why you were doing it in the first place. Sometimes nothing to do with music, but when it’s right it is so rewarding especially when you are in another country and culture and they like what you do.

 

 

 

 

We hear that you starred opposite Yul Brunner in the King and I – how did that come about?  What was it like? 

 

I had been inEngland for 6 months and  was working along side a Guitarist who was doing extras work; he mentioned that a mega show was coming to the West end and that I should audition. Not thinking much about it we sent in info and left it at that. Well it happened and after 5 brain damaging auditions I got the part. It was a wonderful experience and not as high brow as people expected it to be. It was very down to earth, with a hard working cast. Yul Brynner was the biggest superstar working in the West end at the time. He was very normal and funny and witty, we had packed houses every performance. The after parties were the best with superstar actors, rock stars and royalty.

 

Tell us more about the LA experience

 

Well that was scarey no Hotel, no bookings, no contacts. We’d travelled in via a Hawaii where we had been working, so we got through immigration with out having work permits. We caught a cab and after cruising for what seemed like hours for a hotel, we asked the driver if he knew of a place – immediately he took us to this Hotel and boy did it look doggy! No matter we just wanted a room, It was fine, next day we played tourists and that night decided to check out the Restaurant. It was very dark and the girls which I thought were bar maids were well dressed in oriental long flowing gowns – Classy Thinks me. We soon realised it was a pick up joint great! The pianist was dribbling away on what seemed to be Errol Garners Misty so joined him and sang and presto I had a job we stayed singing my way to the next town.

 

The Royal Variety Performance is not something many blues singers have sung at, what did you sing for HRH the Queen?

 

At that time I was part of a company so we had to do something from the show ‘Getting to know you ‘

All part of wearing another hat to get where I am today. I did get to meet Bill Haley, it was his last performance in England .

 

We heard that you have been asked to sing for the Rugby World Cup, how did that come about? 

 

I have sung at 6 previous Rugby league Matches for NZ including Tonga also at Royal Windsor for NZ v England Polo tournament.  Coming off the road and recording at home has made me available for the Rugby League World Cup. Warrington is holding the opening game at the Halliwell Jones Stadium NZ v Samoa 27th October. I have been asked to sing both anthems

 

What has been the most interesting gig you have played and why?

I was booked at a Rolls Royce club in Watford as an Australian Chinese Guitar player it was the last booking of a 10 day run after which we were to be paid. I had previously worked with the backing duo so music wise no problem just the billing was wrong. Do I make a fuss? No! Went to the dressing room to change to find  a girl sharing with me  – Heading  to the stage my husband Dave came rushing down and gabbled ‘just do what we did the night before and oh the audience is 600 men its a stag do’. Shocked I dashed back to tell the girl in the dressing room and to my horror she came out with ‘That’s the only kind of gig I do Love ‘ I’m stripper.

 

 

Makuini is a name that will be new to many people on the blues scene, how come, after such a varied and interesting career you are coming to the blues now?

 

 I guess I have always sung the blues in different genres and lived it too. Classically trained I have gone on to lead, teach, perform and record but it was my recent visit to my homeland that rekindled my writing with my sister Heeni, songs that are featured on the EP ‘Roll of the Dice’ Also being able to have the right musicians around me The Hoo Doo men lead by Sarge Frampton  are very instrumental in my compositions.

My varied career has bought me full circle to my roots

Is there a time limit to enter this arena –no its life’s experience

 

Are you influenced by modern blues or do you feel your blues is more traditional in style?

 

I guess Traditional Blues is what I lean toward unconsciously as American Blues, Jazz and popular music was permanently air on NZ radio when I was growing up.  I am open to modern blues too keeping the blues alive and fresh.

 

If you could sing with anyone who would it be and why?

 

Ruthie Foster- I like the way she threads her stories with simplicity and a catchy rhythm.

 

Many thanks for doing this interview.  Live Blues Info Team.

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