Nicolla Hemi-Moorhouse speaks to Kete about creating her new picture book and performing as Miss Nicky

Kia ora Miss Nicky! We love what you do, teaching te reo Māori through your music and song. What inspired you to begin your journey as a children’s entertainer? 

I grew up singing with my father Rawiri Hemi (Ngāti Koata). He loved singing and I always enjoyed music and I played several instruments growing up and loved performance. I dreamed about being a real performer when I was a child but never considered it would come true or that I’d be actually performing in my later years. Some dreams feel too big and unachievable so I’m incredibly fortunate that Miss Nicky has found her way to the surface, and so organically. 

Our reviewer, Melinda Szymanik, described your recent release ‘Because I’m Māori’ as ‘a wonderful positive affirmation for embracing one’s Māori culture and heritage,’ and the illustrations as ‘vibrant and joyful.’ Is spreading joy in Māori culture at the heart of your writing and performance? 

Spreading joy is at the heart of every performer for children's role and I deliberately try to cast a bright colorful light on Māori culture for not only children but for grown ups too. 

Growing up bi-cultural, I have seen and have experienced so many barriers to embracing te ao Māori. When trying to reconnect to our culture, so many of us are afraid of not knowing, of making mistakes while re-learning our language and culture, and we are afraid of looking silly etc, so I intentionally wanted Miss Nicky to be welcoming, inviting, warm and joyful. I try to show the world that Māori culture is wonderful, magical, and something to be proud of. I also try to normalize mistakes in our learning process. We are allowed to have fun while learning, we’re allowed to express ourselves and make mistakes. It’s important to embrace courage when re-learning our culture so that we can continue to thrive and grow. 

I read in an interview that Miss Nicky Says is a whānau affair that involves your own tamariki. That’s wonderful. You must be very proud of what you’ve all created! I’m imagining your whānau life full of song, story and art. 

I have four children aged 16-27 and they’re all very good artists. My girls are visual artists. The oldest Lee Solo (27) is a fashion designer, artist and tattoo artist and has animated a few of my NZ on Air funded music videos. Story Hemi-Morehouse (26) is an established illustrator of Māori children’s books and has worked with me on this book 'Because I’m Māori’ - she’s done a wonderful job of capturing a familiar warmth that we understand in te ao Māori and showing our cultural values, i.e. family, kai, moana, aroha, while also capturing diversity in the book's main characters. And then my son Arama (21) is completing his Bachelor of Music but is also a prolific songwriter, performer and producer and he’s produced some of my songs for me too. I’m very lucky because my children and I enjoy working on art projects together, we love to collaborate and support each other so I’m very fortunate.

You are performing in Auckland this month with Suzy Cato. What will your show involve? 

The kiddies who come along love singing their favorite Miss Nicky songs like ‘Oma Rāpeti’ which has over 384K YouTube views, and of course my viral song ‘The Nine Stars of Matariki’ now over 772K views, and since it’s Matariki season, this show is going to be a celebration of my favorite Matariki songs including a brand new song called ‘Celebrate’. I’m also bringing Tama-G (Hemi Morehouse), my 16 yr old son, who appears in two rap Matariki videos, ‘I Love Matariki’ and ‘Celebrate’. The little boys who watch Miss Nicky really enjoy Tama-G because he's way cooler than Miss Nicky and it’s a nice balance when I have him on stage, so it will be a lot of fun, energy, and of course educational for the Matariki season too. It’s also going to be very special performing with the colourful fairy Rainbow Rosalind and of course Suzy Cato and it’s going to be a wonderful family occasion so I’m really looking forward to it. 

It must be quite a different process to this, publishing a book. What was the most fulfilling part of the book process for you? 

Creating this book has been a very different process to songwriting and there have been so many moving parts to the creation, so I really had to rely on the direction of Bateman Publishers who have been so amazing to work with ,and I had to trust the process. I was fortunate to have a very capable team to work with. I was confident that my daughter Story would illustrate the book beautifully and I was confident in my song and message. I was lucky to have Rainbow Rosalind work with me writing the music score so that this could be a singalong interactive book, and Justin Kereama did an amazing job of helping me translate my lyrics into te reo Māori. My son Arama helped me record the song into te reo Māori so that readers can interact musically too. 

While we worked on the book for several months, it didn't feel quite real until I saw the first printed copy. I think I cried happy tears. It still blows my mind that my song can be a book and I feel incredibly proud and grateful to not only the team who collaborated with me but to Bateman Books for believing in the important message in the story/song. I'm grateful that they understand the power of instilling joy, confidence and power in our children. I wish my father were here now to see it. I think he’d be really proud.