Tama Waipara is a prolific Māori artist, composer, mentor in the Māori music industry, and currently a curator. He was raised in Ōpōtiki in the Bay of Plenty and started his musical endeavours playing the clarinet at a young age, highly influenced by his musical family.
In pursuing his career as a clarinet player, Tama graduated from Auckland University with a Bachelor of Music degree, during that time he joined the Auckland University choir. It was also around this time that he gained an opportunity to record an album with Mahinaarangi Tocker along with her producer Shona Laing. After completing his Bachelor of Music, Tama auditioned for the prestigious Manhattan School of Music in New York, where he was accepted and later graduated with his master’s degree in music and performance-clarinet. He stumbled across many opportunities in New York and explored the diversity of music offered in the ‘big apple’, this fuelled his passion for music and would influence his musicianship.
On Tama’s return to Aotearoa, he immediately used his musical skills and knowledge to contribute to many kaupapa Māori. In 2006, Tama was a part of the Hirini Melbourne tribute album ‘He Rangi Paihuarere’, facilitated by Peata Melbourne, he sang a cover of ‘Kiwi’ from Hirini’s ‘Forest and Ocean’ album. He also featured on the album ‘Toitū Te Whenua’, facilitated by Maisey Rika, who gathered a camaraderie of Māori musicians to record the album, and held a concert to raise funds for the preservation of Ihumātao in 2019.
In 2010, Tama alongside Maisey and JJ Rika were part of a contingent of Toi Māori Aotearoa artists, who travelled to Leiden in the Netherlands. The purpose of the trip was to handover a traditional waka tauā, “Te Hono ki Aotearoa”(The Connection to Aotearoa) and waka tētēkura, “Tāhimana”(Tasman), to the Volkenkunde Museum and Njord Royal Rowing Club, both waka permanently loaned. The trio performed at the reception handover ceremony.
In the following years, Tama was involved with Pūatatangi, the national committee for Māori musicians. Pūatatangi embraces Te Ara Pūoro - the spectrum of Māori Musical Creativity, which supports the Māori music industry that promotes Māori music within the operation of Toi Māori Aotearoa who also advocate the development of rangatahi musicians. With fellow musician Ngatapa Black, together they initiated the Pao! Pao! Pao! Tuakana/Teina Mentoring programme in 2015, a strategy for rangatahi development first proposed by Hirini Melbourne (1949-2003), the first Chair of Pūatatangi. Bringing together teams of prominent Māori musicians, to mentor aspiring rangatahi musicians, embracing their natural talents to develop their skills and prepare them for success in the music industry. The Programme involves an intensive series of marae wānanga that cover composition, vocal training, performance, and recording, culminating in the PAO public showcase. Tama has influenced many rangatahi in his years with Pūatatangi and being involved in the Pao! Pao! Pao! Mentoring Programme, some rangatahi he mentored, have thrived in the music industry, artists such as Te Karahana Garder-Toi (Teeks), who he fostered for many years, and several members of Maimoa Music, Te Hoeata Maxwell-Blake, Makaira Berry, Pere and Awatea Wihongi.
Tama retired from the Pūatatangi committee in 2017, his influence and contributions to the development of Māori music and rangatahi musicians are still acknowledged today, so too is his influence on the committee and in the Māori music industry. To this day, Tama still supports and contributes to the rangatahi development initiatives carried out by Pūatatangi, under the umbrella of Toi Māori Aotearoa.