2020 Arts Foundation Laureate receiving the Jillian Friedlander Te Moana-nui-a-Kiwa Award
Ariana Tikao is a singer and composer of Kāi Tahu descent. She writes waiata exploring themes relating to her Kāi Tahu identity and mana wahine, often drawing upon historical kōrero from her ancestors. She is an artist who is amongst the current generation of leaders rejuvenating taonga puoro (the indigenous musical instruments of Aotearoa), following in the footsteps of Hirini Melbourne, and two of her mentors, Richard Nunns and Brian Flintoff.
Tikao began performing in 1993 with the folk group ‘Pounamu’, and branched out on her solo music career in the early 2000s. Known for her captivating live performances and critically acclaimed recordings, she has released three solo albums: Whaea (2002), Tuia (2008), From Dust to Light (2012), and has been involved with many collaborative projects, including Emeralds and Greenstone, Auaha, and Ihimaera.
In 2015 Tikao and Philip Brownlee were commissioned by the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra (CSO), to compose the first concerto for taonga puoro Ko te tātai whetū. Tikao performed it with the CSO that year, and later with Stroma and the Nelson Symphony Orchestra. She was set to perform it with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra (NZSO) in April 2020, but these performances were postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. She has also performed with the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra, the New Zealand String Quartet, Stroma, and in 2016 was a part of an international orchestra of musicians that came together to perform in John Psathas’s epic No Man’s Land.
In 2019 Tikao toured nationally with Atamira Dance Company, for the dance show Onepū, choreographed by Louise Potiki Bryant. Tikao co-composed the show’s soundtrack with Paddy Free, and also performed as Hinearoaropari, the atua of echoes. Onepū is based on an origin story that came from Tikao’s great-grandfather Teone Taare Tikao, about female atua (gods) of winds and other elements. Tikao says “we see these atua and this story as being able to connect us with our environment and whakapapa as well – very important in this day and age, in terms of the issues that we face, that we remember that we’re connected to our environment and not separate from it.” Tikao, Free, and Potiki Bryant are working on a new project together this year relating to Climate Change, on the theme of water, called Te Taki o Te Ua.
Tikao’s music has been featured on television, film, theatre, dance, and online media. In 2019 Tikao worked with Karl Steven on the soundtrack for the documentary Fools and Dreamers, which highlights the work of the Hinewai Reserve. They have made the soundtrack album Hinewai available as an online fundraiser for the ecological reserve.
Tikao also works regularly with other taonga puoro exponents such as Alistair Fraser, sharing their knowledge through wānanga and performances. Tikao and Fraser are releasing an album together later this year, through Rattle Records.