New Zealand Music: What Music is from New Zealand?© MarlboroughNZ
New Zealand Music: What Music is from New Zealand?

New Zealand Music: What Music is from New Zealand?

© MarlboroughNZ

A Traveller’s Guide to Music in New Zealand

The first European to set foot in New Zealand, Captain James Cook, famously said that the New Zealand music was, “harmonious enough but very doleful to a European ear.” Ask travellers to New Zealand about the music today and it’s more likely that it will be one of the most captivating experiences of the trip. New Zealand music has Western and Polynesian influences with popular genres being jazz, blues, country, rock and hip hop. While travelling around New Zealand, you’ll get the opportunity to hear New Zealand music through music festivals and Maori cultural attractions. Find out more about music in New Zealand and how to incorporate it into your trip in this guide to New Zealand music.

5 Fun Facts About New Zealand Music

Let’s get this New Zealand music guide started with a few fun facts!

  1. Early Maori instruments called “taonga puroro” were made out of hollowed-out wood, stone, whale ivory, albatross bone and human bone
  2. In 2013, New Zealand singer Lorde became the youngest solo artist to reach number one in the US at 16 years old
  3. The best-selling New Zealand pop song of all time is “How Bizarre” by OMC
  4. In 2011, Kimbra collaborated with Belgian-Australian singer Gotye on “Somebody That I Used to Know” topping the charts in around 25 countries and selling more than 13 million copies worldwide
  5. May is New Zealand Music Month, so it’s a good time to look out for local gigs.

And for the best places to listen to New Zealand music, check out What are the Radio Stations in New Zealand?

New Zealand music© Annette Geneva on Flickr

New Zealand Musicians Who Have Had International Success

If you have heard songs from any New Zealand musicians, it’s likely to be the musicians who have had international success. Famous music artists from New Zealand include:

  • Lorde
  • Ladyhawke
  • Flight of the Conchords
  • Split Enz
  • OMC
  • Six60
  • Bic Runga
  • Kimbra
  • Fat Freddy’s Drop
  • Brooke Fraser
  • Savage
  • Gin Wigmore
  • Keith Urban.

See more famous Kiwis in our 15 Celebrities from New Zealand.

New Zealand Symphony Orchestra

New Zealand also has a national orchestra, the New Zealand Symonphy Orchestra, based in the country’s capital, Wellington. The orchestra tours around New Zealand, mostly performing in Wellington, Auckland and Christchurch, and less frequently Hamilton and Dunedin. Internationally, the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra has performed at the BBC Proms in the UK, the Concertgebouw in the Netherlands, and the World Expo in Japan.

NZ music©

Maori Music

While travelling around New Zealand, the music you’re most likely to hear through live performances is Maori music. There are several forms of Maori music that have developed over time. Some notable music forms include:

  • Waiata – songs are sung solo or in unison, usually lullabies, love songs or laments
  • Karanga – performed during a welcome ceremony known as a powhiri. It is the ceremonial call performed by the women of the welcoming tribe
  • Moteatea – traditional chanting performed even before the arrival of Europeans in New Zealand
  • Kapa haka – a type of Maori performing arts where groups showcase their cultural heritage through song and dance.

Aspects of each music form can be seen in Maori cultural attractions around New Zealand. See Maori performances at the following attractions:

See the 10 Best Maori Tours in New Zealand for more attractions with musical performances.

New Zealand Music: What Music is from New Zealand?©

Music Festivals in New Zealand

A great way to experience local music from New Zealand is through New Zealand music festivals. New Zealand has a lively schedule of festivals each year, most of which occur from December to March.

Annual Music Festivals in New Zealand

For more festivals, see our 10 Summer Festivals in New Zealand, as well as our New Zealand Events Calendar.

More About New Zealand Music and Culture

That’s it for our quick guide to New Zealand music and what music is from New Zealand. For more about New Zealand music and culture, check out more of our guides:

Finally, if there’s anything we’ve missed, you’re likely to find it in our guide, What is Kiwiana?


Robin C.

This article was reviewed and published by Robin, the co-founder of NZ Pocket Guide. He has lived, worked and travelled across 16 different countries before calling New Zealand home. He has now spent over a decade in the New Zealand tourism industry, clocking in more than 600 activities across the country. He is passionate about sharing those experiences and advice on NZ Pocket Guide and its YouTube channel. Robin is also the co-founder of several other South Pacific travel guides.

Was this article useful?