Catchy hit song Poi E reaches big screen after 30 years

The story of the unofficial Maori anthem is told in a new documentary.

Poi E: The Story of Our Song
Distributor: Sony Pictures. 90 minutes
New Zealand International Film Festival

A missing guitar kept an enthusiastic audience in its seats after the world premiere screening of Poi E at Auckland’s Civic Theatre.

After watching more than 30 years of history unfold on the screen, attending members of the Patea Maori Club performed an impromptu concert featuring the catchy waiata that became the anthem of Aotearoa New Zealand.

Poi E: The Story Behind Our Song is 90 minutes of pure nostalgia with film and TV footage of the first Te Reo pop song to top the hit parade.

Led by the irrepressible Dalvanius Prime, the club’s popularity spread around the world, culminating in a Royal Command performance in London in 1985 and appearances on British TV.

The club is still going strong, as the post-screening performance received a standing ovation, as did all those associated with the film.

Poi E is a mix of traditional waiata with the then popular street culture of break-dancing and Michael Jackson.

It was first released in early 1984 but took several months of TV airplay before it caught on.  Radio stations preferred imports such as Foster & Allen’s  Maggie, which punctuates the film as a reminder of how dire pop music can be in retrospect.

Those involved at the time make the repeated point that the Maori contribution to popular music was then restricted to the Howard Morrison Quartet’s novelty songs and covers of international hits.

The Topp Twins and Don McGlashan recall the impact of  Poi E  at the time, while Taika Waititi and Stan Walker contribute a more contemporary perspective.

Poi E is an emotional roller-coaster, from the death of lyric-writer Ngoingoi Pewhairangi while the club was touring overseas to the euphoria of international success.

The commercial angle isn’t explored though some of the interviewees suggest royalties are still coming in.

Poi E was reprised in Waititi’s hugely successful Boy and will surely get another boost once the film is publicly released on August 4.

Director Tearepa Kahi has a potential hit on his hands that could give Hunt for the Wilderpeople a run for its money as the biggest Kiwi film of the year.

Poi E is scheduled to open the New Zealand International Film Festival in Wellington on July 21. It also screens at Event Cinemas Westgate, Auckland, on July 23 and Event Cinemas Manukau on July 24.

Tune into NBR Radio’s Sunday Business with Andrew Patterson on Sunday morning, for analysis and feature-length interviews.

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