A Maori Original
He’s warmed up for Grace Jones in New York and entertained HRH Prince Charles at the Palace of Holyroodhouse. He shocked audiences in the Oscar-winning film The Piano, and penned the world’s first ever gay haka, Tēnei Tōku Ure (This Is My Penis).
In an era of cut-and-pasted, sampled and rebooted pop culture, Mika is a rare commodity – a truly original New Zealand Māori artist – an entertainer with three decades of eye-poppingly innovative work spanning stage, film, television, fashion and music.
Mika is in constant demand, both in Aotearoa and abroad. His far-reaching fan-base calls for him to perform everywhere from Timaru to Tokyo. He has toured his critically acclaimed live shows to an astonishing seven Edinburgh Festivals.
Mika has recorded seven albums in te reo Māori and English, and is an APRA Maioha Award nominee. He has appeared in over twenty TV series and specials – from TVNZ classics Shark in the Park and Shortland Street, to his own Qantas Award nominated Mika Haka Kids and Kā Life for Māori Television.
Throughout a broadly rewarding career, Mika has given back by educating and inspiring new generations of Māori and Pacific artists and performers. This multi-talented tribe includes actors, dancers, singers and musicians, visual artists and fashion designers. As Mika says, “Art doesn’t have boundaries – minds do.”
The 21st Century Mika is a modern Māori taonga whose artistic achievements stand proudly alongside his philanthropic work as kaitiaki of the Mika Haka Foundation, a charity organisation committed to keeping young New Zealanders active and healthy through physical culture and the performing arts.
Pop Haka: Mika’s Queer Māori Bricolage
Dr. Mark James Hamilton
I first saw Māori artist Mika perform in his 1997 Edinburgh Fringe Festival show Mika and The Uhuras. It had a cast of three, recorded music, and the stools on stage were from the venue’s bar. It was a sell-out success, and Mika made headline news in the UK and NZ press.
In 2010, I was director and a dancer for Mika’s one-off performance, Pō: Beautiful Darkness. This main-house show had a company of twelve from across the Asia-Pacific region, a ninety-piece symphony orchestra, and a custom-built aerial circus rig.
Mika is committed to reaching as wide an audience as possible, and his work makes extensive reference to popular culture.
Mika and The Uhuras featured Burt Bacharach songs, and tunes from American TV programmes such as Wonder Woman. By contrast, Pō had original songs in Māori language, yet the show re-staged images from the movie Moulin Rouge, and ended with a Marlene Dietrich number, Illusions. Moreover, the show’s burlesque-circus artists all wore the trademark whiteface make-up of Cirque Du Soleil.
In part, Mika’s performance lionises global (Anglophonic) popular culture. Yet at the same time, his transgendered and tribal stage persona speaks through and about that fictive world, making it queer and Māori.
In Mika and The Uhuras, Mika wore platform boots and a skin-tight emerald-green halter-neck catsuit that exposed his buttocks. In Pō, he first appeared in a flame-coloured flamenco gown with a stand-up collar of feathers. So costumed in each production, he performed his own ‘gay’ haka: “Tēnei tōku ure, whakatū rite taiaha. Ahi ō te wero, tōku whakapapa” (This is my penis, erect like a spear - source of my might, my fecund birthright).
Mika’s performance of popular culture is complicated by his sexuality and ethnicity. It occupies a liminal territory astraddle light entertainment and art-house satire, positioned as subversive continuations of Māori concert party performance (a practice in its second century).
It asks, what happens to pop songs and haka when juxtaposed and intermingled? Do ditties become declamations of self-empowerment? Do ritual challenges become funky jigs? How do different stage frames contribute to such ‘rekeying’? Transferred from the Fringe to the opera house, is Mika’s camp eclecticism revealed as indigenous avant-garde bricolage?