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Meet the Team
Kirsten Te Rito

Kirsten Te Rito,
Kairuku Hōtaka Hanga Māori |  Co-ordinator of Māori Programs.

In our Meet the Team series, we invite you to sit down and learn more about each SOUNZ staff member. Today we introduce Kirsten Te Rito.

Can you tell us a bit about your family, kids, where you're from etc?

Ko Puketapu te maunga
Ko Ngaruroro te awa
Ko Tākitimu te waka
Ko Ngāti Hinemanu te hapū
Ko Ngāti Kahungunu te iwi
Ko Ōmāhu te marae
Ko Tairea te maunga
Ko Whangawehi te awa
Ko Kurahaupō te waka
Ko Ngai Tū te hapū
Ko Rongomaiwahine te iwi
Ko Tuahuru te marae

My mother is from Te Waipounamu, born in Murchison and raised in Kumara Junction. They had a big farm there where the Coast to Coast race starts every year. On my fathers side, he was born and raised in beautiful Te Māhia up on the east coast and was one of 13 children. I have two older brothers. My parents both came from huge families so I think they thought three was enough! We were raised in Maupuia in Wellington. Sadly, my father passed away when I was in intermediate school, but my mum still lives in the house they built over 50 years ago. I have been blessed with two beautiful sons, Ren and Vaughan and the best husband, James Illingworth who is in the music scene too and is a talented jazz pianist. We are a close whānau, and have a great relationship with the boys, who both now live in Australia.

Where did you grow up? Where else have you lived?

I have always been based in Wellington. I have travelled a lot overseas for mahi but only for short stints of a few months at a time. My favourite job placement was in Shanghai when I was working for Disney in The Lion King musical. 

What do you enjoy doing when you are not working?

I’m a social butterfly. I love catching up with whānau and friends, especially if that involves meeting up for dinners at the beach. I also love listening to and creating music. Yes, it is my job but also my passion.

What is your earliest musical memory?

My earliest musical memory is of my dad quietly singing me to sleep in te reo and reciting karakia as I drifted off. It’s a beautiful memory. 

Where would you like to go on vacation if you had a month off and money was no object?

I would love to go on a family trip with my boys to the Amazon and see all of the flora and fauna in their natural environments. 

How would your family and friends describe you?

I think they would say I’m headstrong, bossy and focussed, but love to have fun and laughs, loyal, loving and up for anything!

Where’s your favourite place in the world?

My number one favourite place is wherever my whānau is. But if I had to choose a location, it would be Te Māhia where my father is from. It’s a magical place, surrounded by ocean with incredible rock formations that jut out into the moana. It’s a place steeped in Māori history and spirituality and I have a long line of tipuna from there. Recently I was there with my dads brother looking out to the ocean from our whenua and he stated how amazing it was that the view we were taking in with our eyes, was the same view our tipuna had also taken in with theirs. All that was separating us is time. It was lovely to sit there and think of them. 

What has been your career progression?

From an early age I was encouraged to be creative. Both of my parents are/were painters. I started dance lessons at age three. I did tap, jazz and ballet for many years, and into adulthood. I also studied classical piano from age six and took vocal lessons in my teens from opera singer Linden Loader. With the dance and voice skills, musical theatre seemed like a natural progression. I studied musical theatre at the Wellington Performing Arts Centre and from there became a freelance artist, performing in musicals and stage productions as well as developing my songwriting skills. I met my husband James, and then moved more into the Wellington music scene, singing jazz and developing our music together. Since then I've gone on to release three reo Māori albums and am about to launch a new electronic music project. 

What’s the best meal you have ever had?

We have a whānau waananga and reunion every 2 years with my dads family in Māhia. I have a lot of good cooks in my family and one of the best meals I've ever had was at one of our get-togethers. We had a ground cooked haangi, crayfish, oysters, kina, rewana bread, raw fish, cream paua and all the trimmings. I’m salivating just writing about it!