Buzz: Music: Refreshing Kiwi

Gerald Martinez

WITH hip hop and R&B dominating the charts and female singers trying to outdo each other in getting down and ‘dirrty' on their records as well in concerts and videos, it's so refreshing to see a 16-year-old heading the other way.

New Zealand's Hayley Westenra performed at the Panggung Bandaraya recently and let her voice and talent shine through in a set featuring folk songs and and standards.

When a pretty knee length dress decorated with butterfly motifs and backed by an acoustic guitarist, it was a show of the utmost simplicity for the most part.

She started the show with perhaps the most famous Maori song of all, Hurry Hurry Home, plus songs from her album Pure like Who Painted the Moon Black, Never Say Goodbye, and Across the Universe of Time.

Hayley displayed an exceptional voice, a clear, strong and rich soprano. Sort of Sarah Brightman, Sally Oldfield, Kate Bush sound, that you can only achieve with lots of training and practice, and natural talent.

But then she was born into a family of singers – her grandparents on both sides sang in pubs and on the radio – Hayley's perfect pitch was noticed by a schoolteacher when at the age of six she performed in a school Christmas play.

She is now 16, a major artiste in her native New Zealand, with a performance portfolio that includes the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and Russell Watson. Hayley's voice so inspired New Zealand opera diva Dame Malvina Major she offered to tutor her. Hayley's first international CD release is Pure.

"Before, I was singing show tunes and light classical music. It was all one genre, whereas now I've got a lot more variety. I'm going to more extremes with proper classical pieces and poppier songs. Making this album has broadened the way I sing. I've developed different singing styles." Hayley sees herself as primarily a classical performer, but she does not wish to put herself into a stylistic corner, and on Pure she explores the worlds of pop, traditional Maori choral singing, and gives a new freshness to well-known classical repertoire. The album's producer Giles Martin enrolled a number of people to help Hayley achieve this, including his father, legendary Beatles producer Sir George Martin.

The eldest of three artistic children (Isaac, Sophie and Hayley), Hayley is adept at piano, violin and ballet. Her parents, Christchurch gemologist Gerald and his wife Jill naturally encourage their children, but insist they're not pushy stage parents. They are facilitating their children's artistic wishes whether it is dancing, music or acting, not the other way round. In stark contrast to most children who have to be forced to practise, Hayley took every opportunity to perfect her talents – quickly adding piano and recorder tuition to her violin lessons, and learning to read music by seven. It was also around this time that her passion for Musical Theatre began to take shape. By the age of 11, Hayley had appeared in over 40 stage productions, sung on TV shows and performed in major concerts. In 2000, Hayley recorded a demo album, mainly as what she called a ‘memento'. This personal souvenir – just 1,000 copies were pressed – unlocked the key to her future. On the day the recording of the CD was completed, Hayley and her younger sister Sophie (both vocalists, violinists and pianists while younger brother Isaac plays the flute), busked in their home town, Christchurch. The pair quickly drew an enthusiastic crowd. "A woman asked us if we'd recorded anything." The young busker's fan was a journalist with a local television station and Hayley soon appeared on air. The appearance captured the attention of a leading New Zealand concert promoter Gray Bartlett, and a deal with Universal Music New Zealand soon followed.

Hayley's self-titled debut recording for Universal New Zealand featured an eclectic mix of show music and classical pieces; it went straight in at No.1 in the pop charts (where it remained for four weeks), turned triple platinum and made Hayley the fastest-selling local artiste in New Zealand's history. This was soon followed by the Christmas album My Gift To You.

Away from the stage, Hayley is a typical teenager. Music is her top priority but she is also keen on netball, swimming and indoor rock-climbing and has represented her school at cross-country running. "Other than music, I also enjoy ballet dancing, (she has performed with the Royal New Zealand Ballet) reading, watching movies, shopping and hanging out with my friends! I also like listening to music. My favourite artistes are Nelly Furtado, Craig David, Shakira, The Corrs and Vanessa Carlton."

Thanks to Andy Wood at


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