Happiness is drag and silence

Gay haka, “too much” nudity, and going off script – get ready Taranaki, Mika Haka is coming to town. Brittany Baker had a chat to the New Zealand Māori artist about his upcoming Winter Fest event.

Hey Mika! Thank you so much for chatting with us. You’re heading to New Plymouth next month for Winter Fest. What’s your Libri Lounge session going to be like?
Well, actually, to be honest I’m not so sure! (laughs) There’s been a bit of a fan club happening down there that I didn’t know existed. I was going to do a bit of a Q&A but I’ve got a funny feeling all the drag queens are going to show up and – I think it’s going to be like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get. All the girls have me on my toes! One thing you can assume is that I will look fabulous.

I will say this though: I’m making a 1970s film about a New Zealand drag queen and I am collecting all these second-hand items. So please come and if you’ve got something of Aunty Verra’s that’s been sitting in the corner for years and you’ve been dying to get rid of it, bring it to me! I’ve been collecting for 18 months now and I tell you, some of the weirdest things come up. After the film, it will all be donated.

But I don’t know what to expect for my session. I’d like to shout out to the Pātea Māori Club to turn up and then we’re all going to do a kapa haka dance. Then we’ll have all the drag queens, the theatre kids, the kapa haka, and the rich white people in one room and that is my audience. (laughs) And then all the drag queens are going to drag me out and get me in all sorts of trouble – I hope! 

Your biography I Have Loved Me A Man: The Life and Times of Mika came out late last year. What’s the reaction been like?
The reaction has been more positive. I think the most dirtiest thing I’ve heard is, “There could’ve been less nudes.” But I’ve always been an advocate for sexuality and nudity because it’s beautiful. Men and women should be free to explore sexuality. And that’s a good thing about the book as I’ve been able to talk about things with a deeper resonance.

To me, the book is an academic timeline of what was happening in New Zealand during my career. It’s important to learn about what was happening in the Māori world for gays. A lot of people just don’t know. More importantly in 50 years’ time, someone can pick up this book and see what was happening back then.

You have performed all around the world, including for Prince Charles. What have some of the highlights of your life been so far?
All of them. When I perform, I go to another space. Last Friday night I was a guest speaker at the Governor-General of New Zealand’s dinner and I just go into a space where I’m not performing – I’m just with everyone. You see, I only do the stuff that I want to do. I don’t do it for money. I do it because I love it.

My highlights are those that are the most intimate. Those are the ones I most enjoy. I don’t know how Madonna and Cher keep doing it. They just keep performing – they keep doing it. I remember I woke up one morning in Liverpool in the late 90s and I thought, “Is this my contribution?”

I get excited by what some people would call ‘the most insignificant moments’. Those moments are what I relish in because those are the moments that make a difference. Like speaking at the Governor-General’s. I just love it.

And what about the challenges? What challenges have you faced, and how did you overcome those?
Oh, I’ve got the perfect answer for this. Are you ready? You’ll have to read the book! (laughs)

You have a foundation called the Mika Haka Foundation. What is that, and why did you start it?
In the last 20 years I set up the Mika Haka Foundation, a large number of young people have so many opportunities, they end up having no possible opportunities from those opportunities. Once upon a time, you had to pick up a newspaper to read the news. And when you were done, you folded it up and walked away. Now you can read the news on your phone 24/7. You can access anything you want, whenever you want. And that’s great! But there’s more choice – so much choice that you can’t make a choice.

When I started my career, you were a singer, a writer, a dancer. Now you’re a singer, writer, dancer, digital director – and more! How is it possible to do anything when you have to be everything? How can you make a career when you have to do everything?

The Mika Haka Foundation offers everything for free – and we offer a lot of great stuff like recording studios . It’s largely Māori, Pasifika, LGBTQ, but there’s also some Pākehā, Chinese, Muslims. It’s inclusive – anyone can do it. That’s part of our manaakitanga. Do everything with aroha. And my Te Reo policy, we call it manners. Use it poorly, use it badly, mispronounce it, that’s okay – use it. 

What’s your biggest hope for the world?
More silence. Silence enables the mind to settle and eliminate what it doesn’t need. Our minds are so full. Sometimes silence is what the world needs. I believe there would be less hate if there were more silence. You come out of it and you’re looking at the sky, listening to the birds. You’re not thinking whether it matters that person is gay, if that woman is fat, or if that person is too old.

I have my own space for silence. You can look at things far more important than what’s on your phone. I’m not saying don’t look at your phone! But, put it down. Let your mind be calm and look around a bit more.

  • I Have Loved Me A Man: The Life and Times of Mika – Mika will be in the Libri Lounge August 17 as a part of Winter Fest. For more information and for tickets, visit the Winter Fest website.