Songwriters Speak

NZ Songwriters have their own take on what makes songwriting a vibrant, creative practice. Mercy Williams talks about her view.

Mercy Williams

‘Tōku reo tōku ohooho, tōku reo tōku mapihi maurea.’

My introduction to music was a little different to most. Since I was three, I’ve been educated in a Rumaki Reo (Māori immersion unit), despite the fact that I don’t have any Māori lineage. My song writing style has been influenced by this immersive experience. I am a bilingual song writer. Sometimes the lyrics can only be expressed in Te Reo Māori because there are no words equivalent in English, sometimes I write in both languages. Now that I am studying music at Auckland University I find myself mostly writing in English. Even when I  write mainly in English the influences you can hear are from my Kapa Haka training, it has shaped my voice, as well as how I construct the stories I tell.

Māori language is a descriptive, metaphoric language and subsequently, I have learnt to experience the world through metaphors rather than analysis and fact - “how precious, how noxious, her life is a lie she has tied together with string”. I think the most significant gift that my immersion education has given me, though, is perspective. People always say that songwriting should come from real life experiences, but as an introverted eighteen year old, who doesn’t have a whole lot of life experience to draw from, the majority of my songs are stories.Narratives. Patched together through my love of writing. As a child, I wanted to be a novelist, then I realised that I had too many ideas and not a long enough attention span, then I discovered that writing songs was the perfect amount of time for a story to unfold.

They [my songs] are mostly pieces of fiction that have no relation to events from my own life - “pages of books that go unread, others read and read again, to catch your eye only to look away”. Māori education is full of storytelling, from Maui who caught the sun in order to slow it down so people could get more done during the day, to Hinemoa and Tutanekai, lovers from different iwi (tribes) who weren’t allowed to be together. Hinemoa swam from the main land over to Mokoia island following the music her lover played. Stories for me have always been a way of understanding life. “As for now I cry, for now I won’t be strong and as the dust clears in the rear view mirror I see the right in what’s been done.”

My songs don’t reflect my life’s story per se, but my life is in every one. The way I was educated, the unique perspective that a Māori education has given me. So whilst I don’t literally sing you my story, I share it with you through form and structure, through the way I interpret life.  “Kape o karu, he wahangū te ao. Whakamau tōnu, kaua e whakahokia.” (close your eyes, the world has gone silent. Hold on, please do not return)

Music is such a beautiful thing because every song, every note is a little part of the writer, their life, whether or not they are writing from personal experience. I exist within every line of every song I write, and that is extraordinary.

Ngā mihi mahana,
Mercy

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