‘Pao’ is the name given by Maori to two-lined epigrammatic songs which comment on a wide range of subjects such as love, war, politics or religion; often topical, often improvised. Most of the songs set here were collected in 1864 from Maori prisoners captured during the the land wars in the Waikato area south of Auckland. The couplets are not connected in any way except for the central group, for unaccompanied voice, concerning Pikeri, a character famous at the time for his escapades evading the police; in this instance, enforced separation during a love affair is charted.
The English translations of these pao are used with the kind permission of the late Margaret Orbell, and come from her Maori Poetry, an introductory anthology (Heinemann, 1978).
Pao was commissioned by the Northumberland-based Syrinx Trio, with financial assistance from Northern Arts; the first performance was given by Syrinx in Newcastle in 1981.