Maori Artist & Storyteller Stan Walker Debuts Live Version of "I Am" from Ava Duvernay's Film 'Origin'
Aotearoa, New Zealand-based Maori artist and storyteller STAN WALKER (tribe affiliations: Tuhoe, Ngai TeRangi, Ngati Ranginui, Ngati Pukenga, Tuhourangi Ngati Wahiao, Ngati Porou, Ngati Whakaue and Ngai Tahu) has today released a new live version of his latest track, 'I AM, ' an original song created for Academy Award nominated filmmaker, Ava DuVernay's latest film ORIGIN. The new version of the track makes its debut as both a live performance video and across streaming platforms to coincide with ORIGIN being released in theaters nationwide today.
Originally released in November and making its US television premiere exclusively with Gayle King on CBS Mornings, 'I AM' is a declaration of ownership and reclamation of one's identity. After coming across Stan's rendition of Kanye West's 'Ultralight Beam', DuVernay was mesmerised by his verve. She reached out to Stan and invited him to create an original track for her film 'ORIGIN', the highest tested movie for both Ava and US distributor, NEON.
"This summer, I was talking with my producing partner Paul Garnes about wanting something unexpected for an original song to end our film, 'ORIGIN'. The next day, he showed me Stan's 'Ultralight Beam' interpretation and I watched it four times, back to back. I jumped online and blessedly, we had a producer pal of mine, Chelsea Winstanley in common. I DMed Chelsea, and 24-hours later I was on the phone with Stan Walker. The comfort factor was instant for me. The trust was immediate. His spirit and creative energy shine through - even on a phone call from across the world. We discovered that we share the same belief - that art can change the world. That the stories we tell one another - through music and through movies – matter. My collaboration with Stan on 'I AM' has been a gift to the film 'ORIGIN' and to me personally. That voice, that vibe, that verve? It's real. And sincere. And sensational. I can't wait to share his song with the world and am grateful for the opportunity to do so", Ava says about her and Stan's creative crossover.
Co-written by Stan Walker, Vince Harder, Te Kanapu Anasta, and Grammy-nominated Michael Fatkin (who also produced the track), 'I AM' is a declaration of ownership and reclamation of one's identity. Throughout the collaborative process it was important to Stan to highlight the role of understanding our whakapapa (lineage) and our origins.
"I AM is a declaration, not just who I am, but a declaration for anybody who has ever felt like they don't know who they are. Everyone has a different story, and some people are ashamed because their cultures have been attached to negative things. I have lived that life but that is not what our culture is. The negative outcomes are the result of intergenerational trauma caused by the suppression of our cultural identity and expression, but that is not who we are. Maori society in its purest form is aroha (love) and we have protocols for everything to show respect. We have protocols for walking in the house, how we prepare our kai (food) and who prepares our kai, and we never take more from the land and sea than we need. For me 'I AM' is an affirmation that it's never too late to take ownership of your identity and reconnect to your roots", Stan says.
The release features a video co-directed by Stan and long-time collaborator Shae Sterling that reflects Stan's deep reverence for his roots. Filmed across different locations in Aotearoa, the video serves as a visual accompaniment to the story Stan is orating about aspects of Maori (Aotearoa's First Nations) origins. In the chorus he chants about Kurawaka, the name of the place where the first human was created in some Maori cosmologies, uplifting a direct connection with the natural world.
"It was important for me to integrate aspects of my culture into the song. For me the body of the song is the melodies, the production and flow, but the blood that really pumps through the song is the Maori words and techniques. As the composition builds to the choruses, the song shifts into Te Reo Maori.The chorus itself is I guess what you could call a "modern adaptation"of moteatea, our ancient and truest form of Maori music a form of lamentation found in our traditional performances. It is a rallying call to remember our connection to earth and to never forget our humanity, something I took away after watching 'ORIGIN' several times", Stan says about the recording.
Influenced by the New York Times best-selling book by Isabel Wilkerson, ORIGIN explores the mystery of history, the wonders of romance, and a fight for our future. While investigating the global phenomenon of caste and its dark influence on society, a journalist (played by Academy Award nominated actress, Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor) faces unfathomable personal loss and uncovers the beauty of human resilience.
Moved by the prompt of origins, 'I AM' contributes to 'ORIGIN' a response from an indigenous worldview and orientation that centres connection to everything around us and the interdependent nature of our humanity. In crafting the track, Maori language expert Te Kanapu Anasta joined the song writing team to help write the choruses and outro.
"The song finishes with a whakatauki (Maori proverb) that loosely translates 'to bind together, fix, and affirm; it is affirmed! Bound together; in unity!' It is a reminder of the origins and stories that embrace our collective power, " Stan says.
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