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?