REVIEW: Upu Mai Whetū (The Basement)

Gabriel Faatau’uu-Satiu

[Celestial Navigation]

Upu Mai Whetū literally means words from stars. Under the direction of Fasitua Amosa and curated by Grace Taylor, the performance showcases poems from our Pasifika and Māori literature pioneers using Māori and Pacific stars of stage and screen.

The set-up is simple but effective. The seating block is end-on and laid out front are tables and chairs set up cafe-style. It’s cool. I’m reminded of the many spoken-word and poetry nights I’ve been to and I take a moment to reflect on all the talented poets I’ve encountered.

‘A Samoan Star Chant for Matariki’ by New Zealand Poet Laureate Selina Tusitala Marsh opens the evening. The poem is beautiful and highlights each of the seven actors, as they each perform a stanza in honour of the Matariki Festival.

Upu Mai Whetū is a journey where the power in the words will transport you, creating a cosmic connection as you relive the past through the eyes of the poets. Soundscapes and image projection are added to each poem and performance. Although these added elements emphasize the theatrical aspect of the show, it really is the power of the words, delivered through the performers, that captivate and hold the audience’s attention.

Following Thursday’s performance was an open panel discussion led by curator Grace Taylor with poets Karlo Mila and Zech Soakai. The panel offered a contribution around political views and the relevance of these poems in today’s society which led to a discussion around the lack of Māori and Pacific publishing. The discussion eventually led to a hunger, thirst and need for embedding these poems/poets in the current education system. Pacific and Māori students that don’t necessarily pursue a career or further go study in literature and the arts are missing out on a vital part of their indigeneity. I’m currently in my final year studying an undergraduate in Creative Writing, and I learned more about these poets tonight than I did throughout my entire high school experience.

I highly recommend Upu Mai Whetū and commend Amosa and Taylor for the direction and choices of poetry. This show is pure oratory and storytelling at its finest. It is a pathway towards our Māori and Pacific literature pioneers who have paved a way for our stories in the past, retold and relived in the present, so that we can collectively work together on how our stories progress forward in the future.

Upu Mai Whetū plays at The Basement as part of the Matariki Festival until 14 July. 

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