Hayley Westenra - 100% Pure New Zealand

Growing up in New Zealand – surrounded by sea, snow and space – has had a huge influence on Hayley Westenra’s blossoming international career.

“There are quite a few songs where, as I sing, I picture myself walking along a beach. It’s usually the beach at Sumner, in Christchurch, where I live,” 17-year-old Westenra says.

“It’s so serene and so beautiful and I know it influences the way I sing certain songs.  I think if I had grown up in a busy city, like New York, I would sing quite differently – choose a different repertoire.  But living in New Zealand, I guess I am compelled to sing like I do.”

The young woman is finding herself spending less and less time in the country she loves, as her career takes her to performances in Asia, Europe, Britain and America. 

But Westenra, who always travels with either her mother or father at her side, never forgets where she comes from and makes certain the rest of the world knows exactly where she calls home.

Westenra spent four months in London recording her new album with Beatles producer Sir George Martin and his son Giles. The album name, Pure, has a lot to do with the way she sees New Zealand.

“People say that my voice and my music is pure, and the treatment of the songs on the album has been pure,” she says.  “But it’s also about the fact that I come from New Zealand – a country that is 100 percent ‘pure’.  I think that reflects a lot in the songs I’m singing.”

Two of those on the Pure album, which rushed to No 1 on the New Zealand charts, are well-loved, emotive Maori songs – Pokarekare Ana, and Hine E Hine.  She says she has an affinity with Maori music, having grown up singing Maori songs in school, and today she is entranced by the melodic lyrics in the native language.

“I really enjoy singing Maori music – I think it is beautiful and the vowel sounds are gorgeous,” she says.

“I have grown up with it.  We’d sing Maori songs at school - every week a teacher would grab a guitar and we would all sing along to them.

“When you are away from New Zealand, songs like Pokarekare Ana immediately bring you home - the memories of home and your family come flooding back.  It’s hard not to get emotional.

“Pokarekare Ana is about someone parting with a loved one, heading off to sea. It’s distressing in a way, but such a beautiful song. Hine E Hine is a lullaby, which translates as Maiden O Maiden – a mother singing her daughter to sleep.”

Westenra says she is always enthusiastic about learning more of the Maori culture – her great grandfather was Maori.  She has happy memories of her childhood learning to weave the flax plant – a traditional Maori craft – at her favourite holiday spot, Golden Bay.

Golden Bay is located at the top of the South Island, bordered by beaches and mountain ranges.  No matter how crazy her schedule is, Westenra’s family always make sure she spends a Christmas summer holiday there each year.

“We get a camp site for our tent right on the beach, take our canoe, swim and lie around in the sun. It’s so restorative,” Westenra says.

“Nearby is a town called Takaka, where they have busy little markets and the people are so relaxed and friendly.  It’s the perfect holiday really.”

If she cannot travel far, Westenra is content to go to Sumner Beach, on Christchurch’s east coast with friends.

Westenra says friends she has met overseas come to New Zealand and are “gobsmacked” by her country.  “They just can’t believe the scenery.  They go through rolls and rolls of film trying to capture it all in photos,” she says.  “They are just blown away by the beauty of the Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers, and Lake Wakatipu in Queenstown and the wild beaches of the West Coast.

“I really miss all those places when I am away.  I miss the space we have in New Zealand.  When I’m staying in London it feels really cramped and I just long for my big backyard at home.
“And I miss the lifestyle we have – where we can go to the beach and ski on the mountains in the same day.”

Westenra says the relaxed but fun way of life in New Zealand has played a major role in moulding the performer that she is.  “New Zealanders are very creative people, which has a lot to do with our lifestyle,” she says. “New Zealand really encourages its kids to get up and perform.  When I was eight years old, I was in a busking competition around the malls in Christchurch and it gave me the confidence and encouragement to go out and sing.

“The support that New Zealanders give their performers and artists gives them the kick-start they need to go out on the world stage.”


Thanks to RWHW for locating this item - Copyright 1999-2001 Tourism New Zealand


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