Neko Newman is a Fijian Māori musician with the voice of an angel.
When she’s not drawing comparisons to Erykah Badu with her bone-chillingly beautiful rendition of ‘Love of My Life (An Ode To Hip Hop)’ or filling your Instagram feeds with countless evidence that her vocal cords are not of this Earth, you’ll find her chatting to “cool wise women” at her day job and making playlists that span every genre.
After pressing the play button on every single one of her Instagram videos—an endlessly rewarding experience that we suggest you also partake in—we spoke to her about growing up on a diet of R&B and reggae, the most important voices of our generation, and why she always returns to the theme of love in her music.
Where are you from originally, and where are you based?
I’m Māori, so that could mean two different things [laughs]. I‘m from Auckland City, New Zealand, but my bloodline runs from Morrinsville and Hokianga.
In your opinion, who is the most important voice of our generation?
People of Colour. Of all generations.
How do you think your upbringing helped to shape your worldview?
My upbringing helped me realise reality really quickly. Like, sometimes I like to believe in luck and the phrase ‘Everything happens for a reason’, but ultimately I think that our actions and intentions determine what happens. Those factors are super similar to each other, but there’s still a big difference. I also try to be 100% about everything, Of course there are days where I’d just love to stay quiet and ignore the world, as we all do, but my Granny always said, “It’s nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice.”
What music did you grow up listening to? Has that changed?
I think I’ve listened to most genres, just at different times in my life. From before I could remember or sing, I grew up listening to R&B and reggae because of my parents. Pop came into the picture when I was five when we’d leave C4 channel on the TV all day. That channel always played Micheal Jackson and Pink, so they were a favourite FOR SURE! I became super interested in rap in high school, but my taste was super mainstream. Me and some of my mates liked listening to Nas, Wutang, some New Zealand artists/rappers like Omni Potent, Eno X Dirty and Melodownz, and many others all over the globe. During the beginning of this year, I grew an interest in finding older artists. From artists like Joe, The Album from Paul McCartney, Wings, Jodeci, Billy Idol and so on. I wouldn’t last very long at parties as a “DJ” because I just played songs no-one knew or songs that I enjoyed jamming to, to show off. But, really, no one was impressed [laughs].
Now I’m just soaking it in and listening to every song and artist I was once infatuated with. I think my playlist is amazing, but I need to section it up because the genres are all over the place.
Are there any social or cultural shifts you hope will happen in the next 10 years?
NO POLICE VIOLENCE AND KILLINGS TOWARDS POC. IF THAT ISN’T POSSIBLE THEN AT LEAST GIVE THE COPS A CONVICTION AND BE SENT TO PRISON FOR LIFE FOR TAKING ONE. Same goes for white supremacists that claim murder was self-defense.
If you could only listen to one genre of music for the rest of your life, what would it be?
R&B FOR SURE! R&B has a little bit of everything in it so for sure that.
What’s your creative process like?
My creative process is pretty calm and it’s different every time but I always have a plan. Especially of late. I just felt like doing anything without any intentions really scary. It was fun but it makes me anxious.
What subjects or themes do you find yourself returning to in your music, and why do you think this is?
HAHAA!! Love, of course. I don’t even experience it that often, so it’s funny, but I go off what people tell me their love life is like and how it makes them feel. And that’s like some of my other songs, too: I write other people’s stories because they’re too quiet. Or silent.
Do you create music with your audience in mind?
I used to, but then it just starts to sound like a song FOR the radio. Which is fine, but I’d rather write or make a song that might possibly never make it on the radio, and rather make it because it’s beautiful. Like Queen’s six minute song, ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’. Every now and then a good radio song is great too, though!
If you mean what kind of audience do I picture performing to on-stage or through the radio, the answer would be everyone. Brown, Yellow, Black, White—everythang and everyone!
When do you feel most ‘you’?
When I’m with my family. At our home listening to music.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
Well, it was a question but it changed me and it was, “Do you wanna be anyone else?”. If I said either yes or no, it made me think why I contemplated it. For instance, imagine being Beyonce and having all those people idolising you. That’s a mission. Eventually my name will be known around the world and I’ll learn how to deal with all these feelings and different types of people on the way. I think about it quite often.
What’s the coolest or most interesting thing you’ve learned recently?
Actually, my job. I just do the washing and iron all the clothes that need to be ironed for Shortland Street. (Shortland Street is a New Zealand TV drama series!). It sounds boring but it’s not—it’s really easy once you get over how hard it is to iron a button up shirt. I never saw myself doing this, but every day is different and I’m surrounded by cool wise women in the wardrobe department.
What books are you reading at the moment?
I don’t read many books. Like, at all. I watch a lot of movies, series and docos, though. I just finished watching The Ozark, The Last Dance, Tag, and B99 for the fourth time this week.
The last book I read was The Fault in Our Stars and that was back in 2017. I can’t remember much except that the movie was not really like the book. Or maybe I’m talking about The Twilight Series? Who knows! [Laughs]
Right now, Tag. It’s pretty embarrassing to admit that because I feel like I should be choosing Our Planet or something. But Tag has a cute storyline to it—it’s about these dudes that haven’t stopped playing Tag since they were young because they believe that, “You don’t stop playing because you’re old but you’re old because you stop playing.” It’s a humorous watch, for sure!