Matt is of Penrhyn descent on his father Mehau Gifford’s side. The youngest son of Papa Charlie and Mama Tarani Gifford, he is passionate about the project he believes will take him two years to complete.
Matt is also of New Zealand Maori descent on his mother Karen’s Ngati Kahungunu and Tuhoe tribes.
Based in Wellington, Matt is also a member of the quartet ‘Musical Island Boys’, who won the world barbershop quartet contest in July in Las Vegas – the second team out of the USA to do so.
There is no doubt the young Cook Islander is passionate about his home island and music and says that ultimate aim of publishing a book of Penrhyn island hymns and folk song to also including a CD of the hymns – is to preserve the rich culture of singing from the island for generations to come.
“As a culture that relies on close-proximity and inter-generational oral transmission, these songs and their stories will not survive urban drift and the fragmented communities of Penrhyn Islanders,” says Matt.
“This project is an attempt at capturing these songs and stories before the last of those who possess this cultural knowledge are gone forever.”
The project will also develop a smart-device based app with these songs, their lyrics, and story of their composition with video interviews of elders and or composers.
The app will allow the user to isolate a chosen voice part, to hear that part predominantly, to help the user learn it.
“This is a transformational way of ensuring the strong tradition of harmony singing of Penrhyn and the very important stories that they contain are accessible to Penrhyn islanders wherever they live.”
He explains that some compilations to be part of the project range from the ‘hime pure’ or gospel songs to the ‘himene Taranga’ (folk singing), ‘himene Sabati’ (Sunday School songs) and ‘himene takere’ (old songs).
Matt also believes that Penhryn hymns and the voice parts that create them are far more complex than most people realise – far more complex, he believes, than many songs today.
The Ministry for Cultural Development has agreed to support the project.
Matt has returned to Wellington to fine tune his proposal for funding to get the project off the ground which he believes will take two years.
Matt is keen to make his project and dreams a reality and hopefully with financial backing from the ministry of culture and from outside contributors, the language and traditions of Penrhyn through hymns will survive.