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The New Zealand singer-songwriter Lorde has dropped a surprise EP of five tracks from her Solar Power album, re-recorded in the indigenous Māori language.
The EP is called “Te Ao Mārama,” meaning “world of light.” Its release comes just weeks after that of Lorde’s latest studio album and days ahead of New Zealand’s Māori Language Week.
Lorde acknowledged in a statement that while she is not Māori, one of her main realizations while making the album is that much of her value system around “caring for and listening to the natural world” comes from traditional Māori principles.
“I know I’m someone who represents New Zealand globally in a way, and in making an album about where I’m from, it was important to me to be able to say: this makes us who we are down here,” she wrote. “It’s also just a crazy beautiful language — I loved singing in it. Even if you don’t understand te reo, I think you’ll get a kick out of how elegant my words sound in it.”
You can find the new songs on Lorde’s YouTube channel, with subtitles available in both English and Māori.
An attempt to counter a history of injustice
Lorde worked on the album with a wide roster of translators, elders and language experts including Sir Tīmoti Kāretu, Hana Mereraiha and Hēmi Kelly. Well-known Kiwi singers Bic Runga and Marlon Williams also contributed to the tracks.
New Zealand-based pop publication The Spinoff spoke with the “powerhouse team of language experts” behind the album, and Lorde herself.
The interview provides crucial context, noting the long history of injustices that Maori language and culture has suffered and the inequities that persist today, specifically in New Zealand’s music industry. Māori musicians are paid less on average than their non-Māori counterparts — despite huge streaming success and large followings — and the language is rarely heard on commercial radio.
The Spinoff also notes that some indigenous people believe “te reo Māori” should only be spoken by the Māori after so many decades of New Zealand’s government trying to eradicate it.
Lorde is open to your criticism
Lorde told the publication about all of the measures she and her team took to try to get the project right, though is the first to admit she is a “little bit out of my depth.”
“I’m white — however you want to interpret me wanting to engage with our Indigenous culture, that’s fair enough,” she said. “I totally accept that, because it is really complicated.”
As she sees it, doing the project — and opening herself up to potential criticism — was preferable to being too scared to engage with it at all. Lorde described the writing and recording experience as “really emotional” and “really powerful.”
“It’s kind of scary to start any journey, but I guess that’s my thing; I am at the very beginning, and this project is a starting point,” she said.
Lorde spoke to Morning Edition during Solar Power‘s release in August about the evolution of her music and where her journey might take her next. Listen to that conversation or read highlights here.
This story originally appeared on the Morning Edition live blog.