After a seamless three and a half hours in the air from Tāmaki Makaurau (Auckland) to Te Whenua Moemoeā (Australia), I found myself amidst the vibrant atmosphere of Sydney, just a stone’s throw away from the iconic Opera House. The reason for this trans-Tasman journey? The inaugural South by Southwest (SXSW) in Sydney, a convergence of film, interactive media, and music festivals that typically calls Austin, Texas home.
For those unacquainted with SXSW, it’s an annual gathering that draws participants from diverse creative industries, creating a kaleidoscope of panels, presenters, celebrity appearances, and musical performances over five days. This year, it wasn’t just about the event, it was about bringing Te Ao Māori and the richness of indigenous cultures to the forefront at the AotearoaNzHouse.
Embracing Indigenous Roots at AotearoaNzHouse
The AotearoaNzHouse proved to be a home away from home, a haven for indigenous creatives, businessmen, and minds exploring the realms of gaming, tech, film, music, and innovation. The organisers, embracing the essence of iwi taketake (indigenous people), went above and beyond, treating us to kapa haka performances, warm pōwhiri welcomes, and even a delicious hākari (feast) that tasted like it was cooked traditionally in the ground. An unforgettable display of Te Reo Māori and Te Ao Māori at its finest.
Exploring Indigenous Creativity in Gaming
The gaming realm, a universe of creativity, saw the convergence of indigenous creatives. I had the pleasure of meeting the minds behind 4Phase Games, delving into their journey of creating a single-player online video game with indigenous futurism at its core. Duane and the LPL team added a historic touch with the first-ever indigenous “Rocket League” test match, showcasing the potential for future E-Sports competitions between Māori and their Australian counterparts. And yes, I even had the joy of commentating the game bilingually in Te Reo Māori and English.
The Sound of Te Reo Māori Music
SXSW’s musical heartbeat resonates worldwide, providing a stage for emerging artists. For me, it was a revelation discovering Māori artists like Swizle Jager, Mohi, and Jordyn with a Why, each bringing a unique flavour to Te Reo Māori music. Witnessing them live, it became clear that, despite the diversity of their kaupapa, their authenticity echoed through every note, showcasing the journey of Te Ao Māori on a global scale.
Innovation and Indigenous Voices
Navigating through the pandemic-induced challenges, SXSW Sydney became a hub for discussions on how Aotearoa’s unique cultures and voices could thrive across music, screen, tech, and gaming. From embracing Māori culture in gaming to revitalising the Māori language through waiata, the panels were not only informative but also entertaining, with musical and kapa haka showcases adding a special touch to the discussions.
A Unique Moment of Indigenous Cultural Exchange
As the three-day event unfolded, it became a tapestry of whānaungatanga (connection), aroha (love), and wānanga (discussion). It was a unique moment of indigenous cultural exchange, a platform where relationships were forged, and the richness of Māori culture was celebrated.
Reflecting on my experience at SXSW, I found myself effortlessly connecting with amazing individuals. It reminded me of my mother’s wise words, “patua te whakamā” — there’s no need to be shy. These gatherings are about finding your community, creating relationships, and showcasing the incredible things people are doing. Inspired and invigorated, I left Sydney pondering why we can’t have a similar indigenous conference back home in Aotearoa. Perhaps, it’s an idea worth exploring.