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Dalvanius Prime
Māori Music Month Feature

Dalvanius Prime - Singer, songwriter, entertainer, producer, director and cultural guardian, cherished and remembered for his life, lived with a passion for Māori culture and music.
An innovative, creative and unique icon of Aotearoa, New Zealand.

Maui Dalvanius Prime was born on 16 January 1948 in the small town of Patea. He was the fifth of eleven children and was raised in a musical household. His parents often wrote songs together and when he was a young boy he would hear them crooning together on the house porch to the ukulele. It was the ‘50s and ‘60s in Patea and the sounds of doo-wop, The Beatles, Motown and Dusty Springfield rang through the quiet streets.

In his youth, Dalvanius had a passion to be a ringmaster. The circus had a profound influence on the young Prime with its glitz, glam and spectacle and would later lead Dalvanius into a career of music, entertainment and showmanship. His family later became Mormon and the songs changed from that of soul to the soul of the spirit as hymns and at 13 years old he attended the Church College of New Zealand.

At boarding school he played honky tonk and other various types of music on the school piano and listened to his 2SM shortwave radio late into the night to all the latest songs, so much so that his radio was confiscated and as Dal describes it, “life without music was the pits!”. So at 17 years old he ran away to Poneke, Wellington where his music career was about to take off.

photo: Sue May collection

In Wellington Dalvanius met his first musical partner, Rangi Parker, a singer and songwriter.

Wellington saw Dalvanius get into music professionally as a pianist in the scene group “The Shevelles”, a Māori female vocal trio from Porirua. Dalvanius was responsible for arranging their 1960s hit “Beat The Clock” and this lead to several trips to Australia to perform. Australia presented lots of opportunities for performers with bands playing live gigs on every corner of the city, it was a lively and buzzing scene.

Dalvanius also performed for two years in Wellington as “The Fascinations”. The group was made up of his brother Eddie and sister Barlettea as well as himself. Knowing the great opportunities in Australia the group travelled across the ditch to pursue their musical adventures. In Australia their popularity soared with their biggest break being a performance at the opening of the Sydney Opera House in 1973.

Another big break for The Fascinations was working with Sherbert, an Australian pop group that was making waves on the charts and having huge success. Roger Davis, the Sherbert manager, instigated many career opportunities for Dalvanius & The Fascinations and they became a doo-wop and backing group for 3 years. Roger Davis later went on to mastermind Tina Turner’s solo career.

Dalvanius & The Fascinations continued throughout the ‘70s touring and having a successful music career until 1979, when they were at their pinnacle, they got the tragic news that their mother had been diagnosed with cancer. It was time to return home to New Zealand after 10 years of success in the Australian music industry. They decided to break up their act as The Fascinations and leave as friends, siblings and whānau.

Upon return to New Zealand Dalvanius kept working in music, leaving the microphone behind and becoming a record producer. Reunited with childhood friend Prince Tui Teka, he started producing his works. In 1982 “E I Po” written by Prince Tui Teka and Ngoi Pēwhairangi and produced by Dalvanius made its way to No.1 on the New Zealand sales charts holding the position for 2 weeks. It was the first of its kind by mixing both Te Reo Māori and English.

Poi E collaborators Ngoi Pewhairangi and Dalvanius Prime, photographed in 1982.

In 1982 a performance in Ruatoria lead Dalvanius to finally meet Ngoi Ngoi Pēwhairangi. This meeting led to what would be one of the most famous New Zealand songs to ever hit the charts and would change contemporary Māori music for generations to come.

Ngoi Ngoi asked Dal when he was in Ruatoria if he would like to write some songs. They tried a couple but the first song they wrote was “Poi E”. After saying he could only stay one night, four weeks later he was still with Ngoi Ngoi in her home, writing and composing alongside her on the piano.

The Joe Wylie cover for Patea Māori Club's Poi-E album.

In 1982 the freezing works in Patea closed down, leaving the town’s people devastated, unemployed and confused. With “Poi E” Dalvanius and Ngoi wanted to give hope and lift the spirits of the community. Dalvanius says that “Poi E” was also a contemporary song written for Māori youth “going through the jungle of the Pakeha”.

Dalvanius released “Poi E” on his own record label, Maui Records in late 1983. The song topped the charts for four weeks in 1984 and became New Zealand's biggest selling single that year. It was the first song to make the charts that was sung completely in Te Reo Māori. It was an anthem at the time, speaking for a new hip hop generation, and is now considered a cult classic.

It exposed Te Reo Māori to the public, Māori youth and Pakeha and the break dancing in the accompanying music video appealed to the kids because they loved Michael Jackson.

Overnight the Patea Māori Club shot into the limelight. “Poi E” took them across the world. It was well received by the British public and the Patea Māori Club toured the United Kingdom, playing the Edinburgh Festival as well as playing at the London Palladium and giving a Royal Command Performance.

How the UK music press saw The Patea Māori Club. Blues & Soul, February 1985

The mid ‘80s saw Dalvanius compose music for two features by Māori film director Barry Barclay. Research for the movie “Te Rua” – a film about an iwi’s attempts to repatriate stolen carvings from a German museum – took them to Berlin, where they came across the Moko Mokai head collection in the museum. The film brought issues of repatriation and healing to the public eye and to the Government. Dalvanius wanted 35 heads returned and had the courage and drive to do it and to bring our treasures home.

In 2002 Dalvanius Prime was honoured with the Te Tohu Mata Haka at the Te Waka Toi Awards in recognition of his leadership and outstanding contribution to Māori Arts.

Maui Dalvanius Prime passed away in Hawera on the 3rd of October 2002 at the age of 54 after a long battle with cancer.

He was a singer, songwriter, producer, director and a cultural guardian. These skills made him unique and a national treasure. Māori and music were his twin passions. The memory of Maui Dalvanius Prime will always live on as an iconic, creative and larger than life leader.

photo: Kim Woodham