Prior to European contact, moteatea and waiata (chant and song) were essential to the carrying of knowledge (history, genealogy, etc.) in an oral culture. Sometimes guided by taonga puoro (musical instruments), the chant was always monodic, generally falling within the range of a minor third. Only some of this music still exists (Nga Moteatea Vols 1-4). From the early nineteenth century, Maori music was actively discouraged, and replaced by harmonic hymn-singing and European instruments.
Today’s traditional art-form, kapa haka, draws on both old and new traditions. The composition of moteatea (traditional chanted song poetry) has never died out, with Ruka Broughton, Tukawekai Kereama, Arapeta Awatere and others active as composers in the 20th century.
From the 1960s, there was a renaissance of Maori language and concepts. Mervyn McLean wrote Maori Music, which analysed extant moteatea and waiata, while Hirini Melbourne, Richard Nunns and Brian Flintoff and others worked together to recover traditional roles and techniques of taonga puoro, instruments made of bone, stone, wood, shell or gourd, which were blown as flute or trumpet, swung, shaken or tapped. (see Brian Flintoff’s Singing Treasures) Richard Nunns is today the principal exponent of taonga puoro). Today, a few composers draw on Maori language, instruments and concepts in their work.