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Creatively overcoming Covid

Auaha Rangatahi opening night performers gather after their sets at Dive, Dunedin. Photo: courtesy Armstrong Photography NZ

High school musicians and artists who’re finding it difficult to perform or exhibit because of the Covid-19 crisis have been given space in Dunedin’s limelight.

Not only are the 14 to 18-year-olds enthusiastic about playing live again, but tickets to the first Auaha Rangatahi, or Creative Youth, festival sold out within hours. Audiences were multi-generational.

“I’ve really missed playing live. It’s just so good to be able to play gigs again,” musician and singer-songwriter, Keira Wallace, says.

Strawberry Jam Records founder, Ryan Kenton, says Covid-19 lockdowns have reduced the number of gigs, and restrictions have limited venues’ capacities.

Those venues available are often being taken by national music and events, meaning young people have been left without a place to perform.

We’re trying to push and push and push and get the youth of the city recognised for what they do.”


During this inaugural October 13-16 festival, 55 teenagers performed, a Theatresports workshop ran and 15 to 20 static artists exhibited paintings, photographs, drawings, tapestry and poems.

The Dunedin Youth Council chair, Blake Armstrong (18), says Covid-19 has shrunk the music industry and audiences.

“We’ve put a whole festival together to give our high school artists a wee boost post-Covid so they still get the chance to perform with each other.”

A festival of sound

During the festival, the audience was silent in appreciation, then erupted in applause, as Angela Fu played Beethoven on the piano at the Otago Pioneer Women’s Hall.

The night before, the vibe was louder and more electric when four rock bands played amid a light show at Dive.

Keira Wallace enjoyed playing live again. In the past, the 15-year-old has performed at the Inch Bar, Dog With Two Tails and Open Mike Nights, and regularly busks at the Fairfield Community Market.

The Taieri College student plays original and cover songs on the guitar or ukulele and has an “indie-ish” style with thoughtful, thought-provoking lyrics.

Keira Wallace plays during Auaha Rangatahi’s acoustic session at the Otago Pioneer Women’s Hall. Photo: courtesy Armstrong Photography NZ

“The music’s for the over-thinkers and garden bugs, people who are confused but go with it.”

Three songs Keira wrote last year were recorded and produced with well-known Dunedin musician and singer, Molly Devine, and released this year.

Asked what music contributes to these Covid-19 times, Keira responds with earnest simplicity.

I’d like to think that music makes people feel understood…and helps them get through tough times.”


Best of youth artists

Ryan (17) says Auaha Rangatahi has attracted some of the best youth artists in Dunedin.

“We’ve got a really wide selection of really talented artists.”

The music events were sold out, with 70 tickets sold in six hours for the Dive one and 70 tickets sold in four hours for a Saturday night gig at the Kaikorai Rugby Football Club.

Ivy Band, from Bayfield High School, performs its first major gig, opening Auaha Rangatahi in Dunedin. Photo: courtesy Armstrong Photography NZ

Covid-19 physical-distancing restrictions forced a move from the original venue to the larger club rooms.

Venues have been really helpful, he says.

Ryan played in the band Neil’s Beach at Dive, which he describes as an awesome environment.

“Being a broke youth in Dunedin, like most kids are, it’s really hard to book nice venues.”

He observes that Dunedin audiences can be unresponsive, however the youth bands had fun on stage, which translated to the crowd.

This was despite the Covid-19 face masks, physical distancing and the audience needing to be seated.

“People were bopping on their seats.”

While this was the first such festival, the talented teens hope it won’t be the last.

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Keira Wallace

Strawberry Jam Records


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