The story behind Māori Shed Party, Aotearoa’s biggest Spotify playlist

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It is 29 hours long, has over 35,000 likes and is a regular part of rallies across the country. Charlotte Muru-Lanning talks to Invercargill’s Tyra Wainui-Dunn about the inspirations behind her Māori Shed Party playlist.

You’re sitting in the garage on the weekend, hours of potential stretching out before you, and someone says to you, “Put Māori Shed Party on.” What you hear is both a command and a promise of a good time. Jthe Spotify playlistwhich features an eclectic mix including Che Fu, Elvis, Kenny Rogers, UB40, Prince Tui Teka and many more, has become a mainstay at whānau gatherings, drinks, reunions and 21sts across the country.

It all started with the progressive soul ballad holding on to you by artist Sananda Maitreya, whom Tyra Wainui-Dunn (Ngāti Porou, Te Whanau a Apanui, Ngariki Kaiputahi, Ngāti Kahungunu ki te Wairarapa, Sāmoa), then 16, added to a new playlist on January 24 2017.

Now 21, the Invercargill-based basketball and netball player has seen the Playlist’s audience grow from her two “nans” to tens of thousands of strangers. “It took a whole year to get 1,000,” she says of the playlist’s subscribers. At that time, she posted on her Instagram saying, “I feel famous.”

How many likes now? “35,766,” she said, looking at her phone. “Damn it”. (At press time, the playlist had 35,774 likes.)

Wainui-Dunn originally created the playlist so her two nannies could listen to the music they liked. They didn’t know how to get their phones to work to put all their music together – “so I just wanted to put it all together in one place so they could listen to it”.

Because of this, the music is first and foremost tailored to their tastes – everything they wanted to hear was built into the playlist. “My grandma would just say ‘take Rod Stewart’ and I would put Rod Stewart on,” she laughs. When she goes to her grandmother’s house, the radio is on constantly, tuned to stations like Magic and the Breeze. If Wainui-Dunn hears a good broadcast on those frequencies, she’ll add it. She is also open to requests from her parents. When it comes to finding inspiration, “it’s honestly just hit or miss,” she says. “It kind of grows on its own.”

This method of music curation has produced an ever-growing playlist of 444 songs with widespread and cross-generational appeal, particularly to Maori. Wainui-Dunn says she has never deleted a song she added. In some ways, it’s like a sound diary of the past five years.

Two pillars of the Māori Shed Party

When she named the playlist, there were a bunch of “New Zealand garage party” playlists, with vaguely similar assemblages of “old school music” and “New Zealand jams.” To pay homage to those past playlists, she added her own twist to the name — “my grandma calls the garage a shed,” she explains. Now, there are loads of playlists with the same name (and many of the same songs) on Spotify. But at least among existing playlists, Wainui-Dunn’s seems to be the original – and certainly the most popular.

Maori have an abundance of traditional forms of music: waiata, taonga pūoro, kāranga, mōteatea and beyond – traditions that have an expansive whakapapa and history. Apart from these traditions, what makes a song a “Maori song”, I ask Wainui-Dunn. “You just know,” she replies. Rather than being defined in traditional terms, Wainui-Dunn’s playlist draws on modern popular musical influences that have been lovingly embraced by Maori musicians and listeners. Over the past two centuries there has been a far-reaching cultural transfer that has seen Maori adapting new sounds from overseas into our own catalogue.

Perhaps the most iconic example of the playlist is the 1967 song ten guitars by British artist Engelbert Humperdinck. Although he achieved only modest success internationally, he somehow became something of a anthem across new zealand. But with its familiar Polynesian tempo and rhythm, it is especially popular with Maori. So much so that the lyrics “dance to my ten guitars” are often sung instead as “hula to my ten guitars”.

“It’s all the music we grew up with,” Wainui-Dunn says of the diverse nature of the playlist that spans across genres and decades. Contemporary chart toppers from Six60, LAB or Sons of Zion are nestled among the songs Wainui-Dunn’s parents and grandparents grew up listening to. Considering Maori music is like thinking about a whakapapa of sound. Just look at the prevalence of ‘throwback’ on Maori radio stations like Mai FM, where music has the explicit ability to act as a connector between generations. Young listeners have an affection for old ones and older listeners are open to new things. For example, favorites for Wainui-Dunn include anything from UB40 or Bob Marley, and Talk about it by Grayson Hugh – a song released in 1988. “I can play this for hours,” she says. “Everyone loves this song.”

The meme posted by Mai FM. (Picture: Facebook)

In August 2020, radio station Mai FM posted a meme on their Facebook page that referenced Wainui-Dunn’s playlist. It read “The perfect playlist doesn’t exist…”, followed by a screenshot of the Maori shed party playlist. Wainui-Dunn believes the post, which received thousands of comments and likes, was a huge boost to her reading list numbers. Last year, her father encouraged her to find a way to monetize the playlist. So in August, she updated the description of the playlist to include her bank account number and a note saying, “If everyone who followed this playlist gave me a dollar, I could leave the house.”

Wainui-Dunn still lives at home. She’s grateful for the donations so far, but they’ve been slow to arrive — so far she’s received a total of $124, or $0.003 per like. She says she has a separate savings account called “Moving Out” which holds each donation. “Actually, I save everything.”

This week, however, Spotify removed the playlist description and name, and when you search for the playlist on the app, it no longer shows up. Instead, you have to browse Wainui-Dunn’s Spotify profile to find it. She believes the streaming company may have removed the playlist’s name and description without warning in response to her request for donations. (Spotify was approached for comment.) (Update: The title and description are back and the playlist is again available via search.)

Before and after

This highlights a conundrum for playlist creators like Wainui-Dunn – a conundrum shared by many artists themselves: there is little opportunity to turn successful playlists into tangible benefits through Spotify, although the company benefits of their creation. “I really can’t do anything about it,” she said. “When it was growing up it was cool, but now what?”

Musicians messaged Wainui-Dunn asking him to consider adding their songs to his playlist. It’s a reflection of Māori Shed Party’s influence, and also a potential way to monetize the playlist – but she’s determined to maintain the creative integrity of her playlist and refuses to even commit. “I don’t want to spoil the mood,” she says.

Another proposition is that people can sell their playlists. “If someone wanted to buy my playlists, I don’t know if I could sell them…” says Wainui-Dunn. “They would control everything. And then it would just spoil it because it wouldn’t be personal anymore. On the other hand, “if they offered me loads of money for it, it’s like, hmm…”

As long as the playlist stays under her control, she will keep adding more songs that her nans like. And if you want to say thank you, you can always send $1 (or more) to 03-1746-0125920-000.

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