Tama Waipara’s 4th album, Fill Up The Silence, is an engaging and heartfelt soundtrack as Waipara holds to memory of his Maori heritage as if a candlelight guiding his way through the uncertainty of life ahead. Returning to Auckland, New Zealand having received his Masters in music at Manhattan School of Music and recording other works, this album feels like it has special messaging for people of his Maori culture. That messaging begins with the pounding drums of “Medicine Man”, the rhythms signaling the healing in the music as he sings. As I originally shared here on the site about the official video to this song (featured below), the dichotomy of the indigenous warrior/healer in the “sanctuary” of nature versus the soldier snapping his snare with uniform allegiance to a country and its church backing gives another color to the lines, “Save me from this memory / robbed me of sweet remedy”, as well as the chorus phrase, “..but you killed the music in me”.
Then, as to respond to the silence swelling inside, the title track turns up the beat into a dance funk groove a la Talking Heads with the charge “to hear my call” for “no more violence”. However when he comes in with “On The Wall”, there’s still a feeling of mistrust, as if the memory (of historical perspective and/or personal experience) illuminating his path won’t allow him to forget past wrongdoings by others. One of my favorites lyrical lines on the album is in the next track, “Mirror”, acknowledging just how limiting respectability politics can be (caught in the ideal of looking/acting good for everyone else, while not really dealing with our hurt and pain).
“where is it written that we need to be somebody.
as if that’s all there is to know.
too many bodies are in pain to be in picture
of what the pictures never shows”
I love how Waipara’s voice takes chances on this album opting for emotional accuracy over pitch at times to serve the song, such as the warble in the chorus of “Night Vision” and the first cry out of the word “..anymore” in the title track. Speaking of “Night Vision”, it’s my favorite arrangement on this record. The minimal string set on loop, that cathartic yet muted saxophone, and the ghostly harmony bursts are worth the price of admission. Following this is the tender duet with Emily King, “Stay Slow”, then the expressive song, “Letter”. To further underscore patient and deliberate calling of memory, Waipara brings in two songs of devotion, “Pasifika” an ode to Polynesian peoples and the beautiful folk song “Tangihia”.
The pop love song, “The Hunter”, follows with its playful rock/dance groove. The record ends with the acoustic encouragement of “Sunshine on the Water” reminding his people to remember their history and “hold your head high”. Waipara took his time with this record, having recorded it in December 2011 in Brooklyn, and mixed throughout 2012 after a successful crowd-funding campaign. By its songwriting, production elements, and mixing, Fill Up The Silence is a deliberate sonic affair that is designed to be savored.