Almost every week it seems stories of horrific child abuse surface in the national news. Often the details are so grisly they're almost unreadable. And scanning these reports, we may wonder what manner of evil possessed some adults to unleash such barbarism on defenseless little ones.
One such harrowing nightmare inspired Maori musician Maisey Rika to compose the song "Nia," in homage to 3-year-old Nia Glassie, who was tortured and murdered by her family members in the New Zealand town of Rotorua.
"Nia sets my soul on fire," Rika laments.
"I see red, I see red, I see red, I see red.
"Justice enforce punishment.
"Do all a favor, throw out the key."
It's an extraordinarily moving work that won this soulful artist the Best Maori Song award last September in New Zealand.
"I wanted to create awareness, the words just came," says Maisey. "I wish I didn't have to write songs like 'Nia.' But I have to because this sort of thing is still going on and we need to stand up for them. We are their voice; all they can do is cry."
This rising star swept the Maori Music Awards in 2010 also winning Best Maori Female Artist (for the second year in a row), Best Maori Pop Album for "Tohu" and Best Maori Songwriter of the Year.
"I was overwhelmed," she says. "I was up against people I looked up to and listened to growing up. I was also a bit worried, and asked my aunty what responsibilities for my people come with the awards. She just said, 'Keep doing what you're doing. The ancestors are there to protect you, so just keep going.' "
On "Tohu," Rika also highlights the issue of cultural alienation. She sings about young Maori impacted by addiction on "Game of Life:" "Another waste/ Descendants of the chiefs/ Their blood absorbed into this land/ Where we now live as slaves I see it in our kids/The remnants of the leaders we were."
"It was written for the young people who have gone off the rails a bit," she explains. "I like to take my strength from our ancestors who have gone before us, when we were strong and noble people, and that's what I'm trying to say in it. I see too much potential going to waste. I want them to know there is light and hope."
Singing primarily in English with some Maori lyrics, Rika's other songs explore universal themes around happiness, family and love. "Omaio" pays tribute to traditional life in her hometown, while "Fever" celebrates the passion of romance.
Praising her album, a New Zealand reviewer noted it "introduces an impressive singer-songwriter who manages to be expressive without resorting to the cliches of the faux-soul yodel, which has infected many in the post-Whitney/Idol generation. Rika keeps the melodies close and constrained and the result is her nakedly emotional lyrics have even more impact."
Beginning singing professionally at the age of 13, Rika was nominated for "Best Female Vocalist" two years later, and her debut E.P., "E Hine," won "Best Maori Language Album" at the New Zealand Music Awards. Since then she has toured as a lead vocalist with a traditional Maori song- and-dance Kapa haka group, performing in Malaysia, Singapore, Japan, Indonesia and Australia.
She cites a number of leading artists as inspiration - including Sade, Dusty Springfield, Cat Stevens, Tracy Chapman and Lauryn Hill - "conscious writers in the mainstream world, and there are Maori writers, too."
We've previously been entranced by Katchafire and Fat Freddy's Drop from New Zealand, so what we expect from this popular Maori artist?
"It's a bit of a mixture of English and Maori lyrics," she reports. "My culture will always come through in my songs because that's how I was brought up. It's acoustic, soulful and raw. I like to bring the elements like the ocean into my songs. I believe we're all connected in some ways, and I just want people to connect and me connect with them."
* Maisey Rika performs at Casanova in Makawao with her guitarist brother, JJ Rika, on Friday at 9:45 p.m. Admission is $15.
The New York-based group Nation Beat will ignite Charley's on Friday evening with its unique combination of Brazilian maracatu, forro and samba rhythms with flavors of Louisiana's roots music.
"I was playing a lot of jazz and bluegrass and New Orleans records, and then I played a lot of maracatu and forro from Brazil," Nation Beat founder Scott Kettner explained the band's genesis in the New York Daily News. "I came to realize that these sounds really do have a lot in common."
Formed five years ago, the seven-person band includes Brazilian lead vocalist Liliana Arajo from Recife. The intoxicating instrumental mix includes violin and steel guitar with such Brazilian percussive instruments as the berimbau, gongue and pandeiro.
A review of their show at New York's 2008 GlobalFEST raved: "Nation Beat closed out the night with a joyous, driving set that blended styles from Brazil's rural northeast and America's rural South."
That show led to a National Public Radio profile - where they were hailed as, "the most original and alluring group I've heard in years" - which caught the attention of Willie Nelson, who invited the band to perform at Farm Aid.
"A little while ago, I had a chance to hear their music, and they blew me away," Willie noted.
The country icon joined them onstage singing "Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain" and "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry," which are both featured on the band's latest CD, "Legends of the Preacher." Check out YouTube for their amazing Brazilian-infused version of the Hank Williams classic.
* Nation Beat plays Charley's Restaurant & Bar at 9 p.m. Friday. Tickets are $15 in advance and $20 at the door.
Directed by Donald Pippin, San Francisco's Pocket Opera Company is acclaimed for presenting English translations of famous operas. On Sunday, the company teams with the Maui Pops Orchestra, and a chorus of singers from the Olinda Chorale and Musical Voices Maui, to perform "The Elixir of Love" by Italian composer Gaetano Donizetti.
This two-act romantic comedy involves the residents of a small Italian village who are enthralled by the story of the magic elixir that made Tristan and Isolde fall in love. A poor peasant, Nemorino, believes that this potion will help him win the heart of a local maiden, Adina, who prefers a flashy army sergeant.
"Donald Pippin, the founder and one-man band behind Pocket Opera, has been delighting Bay Area audiences for 25 years with his lithe, elegant versions of the operatic repertoire," praised the San Francisco Chronicle. "The result is charming, easily accessible entertainment that brings opera right back to its populist roots. Pippin's productions are an ideal introduction to the form for tentative first-timers, as well as a tonic for the jaded connoisseur."
"Pippin is to opera what Mark Twain was to American literature, a breath of fresh air and a national treasure," noted the Sacramento Bee.
At the concert Pippin will present narratives setting up the various scenes performed by several lead singers from San Francisco. Maui Pops will provide orchestral accompaniment.
* "The Elixir of Love" will be presented at 3:30 p.m. Sunday in Castle Theater at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center. Tickets are $15, $35, $45, and $55 (plus applicable fees), available from the MACC box office, 242-7469 or www.mauiarts.org.
A fundraising dinner with the performers will follow the opera. Tickets are $75 for the Chinese buffet at Yokouchi Founders' Court catered by the UH Maui College Culinary Academy.
After Elton John's brilliant baptism of the new Yokouchi Pavilion, the MACC invites all to a free "Party at the Pavilion" community celebration on Saturday from 4 to 8 p.m.
Along with nonstop entertainment, the event includes bouncy castle rides for kids and a grand finale show with fireworks. Special guests will be give short tours and there will be prize giveaways.
* Willie K and his Blues Band headline at 7 p.m., preceded by HAPA at 6:25 p.m. Other entertainment includes the Derick Sebastian Trio, Zenshin Daiko, Halau Pa'u O Hi'iaka, Haiku Hillbillies and the Maui High School Band.
HAPA, now featuring Ron Kuala'au on guitar and vocals, will make an appearance on "Hawaii Five-0," broadcast on April 11. They will perform Barry's signature instrumental "Olinda Road" on the show. The duo just sold out U.C. Irvine's theater with actor Peter Fonda in attendance.
Those still basking in the glow of Elton's triumphant Maui shows may be interested to know he will host "Saturday Night Live" on April 2. Besides hosting, he will perform with Leon Russell. It will mark his first time back on the SNL stage since 1982.