Described in the US magazine The Beat (2006) as a ‘truly inspiring performing and recording artist', singer/songwriter Moana has been credited by Songlines (2006) with ‘laying the foundations for the recent international exposure of N.Z acts like Te Vaka, Fat Freddy's Drop and Wai.'
Admitting she gets more nervous singing in front of her aunties at Waitetoko marae, Moana Maniapoto says her father and his brothers provided early inspiration with their legendary combination of live performance and hospitality at the marae. She also credits her time at St Josephs Māori Girls College for honing her love of vocal harmony and performance.
Moana paid her way through law school by singing covers in the highly competitive Auckland club circuit. In 1990, Moana & the Moahunters released the feminist anthem Black Pearl which shot to No. 2 on the national charts, earning Moana her first gold.
Since then, she has released albums Tahi, Rua, Toru, Wha and the DVD Live & Proud as well as a retrospective album 'The Best of Moana & the Tribe'.
Moana has consistently pushed the boundaries of Māori music in both recording and live performances, fusing taonga puoro, haka, and chants, with soul, reggae and classical ‘to produce her own blend of traditional and contemporary styles without compromising either.' (N.Z Herald, 2003).
In 2004, Moana became the first non-American to win a major U.S.A based song-writing contest with her song Moko. Moana beat over 11,000 compositions to win the Grand Jury Prize of the International Songwriting Competition. She was appointed as a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit in Queen's Birthday Honours List in that year.
Formed in 2002, Moana & the tribe have played hundreds of international concerts on stages in Budapest, Istanbul, Moscow, Berlin, Toronto, Venice, Shanghai, Seoul, Toronto and more.
She cites meeting and singing for Nelson Mandela during his Auckland visit as a personal highlight.
Moana is a recipient of the New Zealand Order of Merit (MNZM), a Life Time Recipient of the Toi Iho Māori Made Mark and received the 2005 Te Tohu Mahi Hou a Te Waka Toi Award from Te Waka Toi (Creative N.Z), in recognition of outstanding leadership and contribution to the development of new directions in Māori art. Moana received a Music Industry Award at the Maori Waiata 2008 Awards, an Award for an individual who has been active in the New Zealand music industry and who has made a positive impact on Māori Music.
Moana received an Arts Foundation Laureate Award in 2007. The Laureate Award is an investment in excellence across a range of art forms for an artist with prominence and outstanding potential for future growth. Their work is rich but their richest work still lies ahead of them. The Award recognises a moment in the artists' career that will allow them to have their next great success.
Off stage, Moana is one half of an award-winning documentary team led by her partner, producer/director Toby Mills. Their documentaries screen on television and in international film festivals. The couple also led two significant national mentoring projects aimed at inspiring Maori whanau, the most recent being the Maori FutureMakers digital resource that profiles 30 Maori individuals and 15 Maori Whanau business owners.
In 2012, Moana and her sister Trina joined four other women to stage a production at Message Sticks (Sydney Opera House). The same year they co-founded the Muriwai Waitangi Day Festival, a biennial grassroots event that uses music to promote the notion that Every Day is Waitangi Day.
In 2016, Moana received the APRA NZ Music Hall of Fame Award.