On disc, Ben Tawhiti is legendary for his stunning steel-guitar playing on the 1957 single ‘Haka Boogie’, which mixed te reo with rock’n’roll. But his career spanned seven decades and influenced countless other musicians. He began performing as a child at wartime dances, played at Auckland’s Orange Ballroom and the Māori Community Centre, and continued making music and mentoring others until his death in 2012.
Ben was born in 1934 on Matakana Island, near Tauranga in the Bay of Plenty, one of four children brought up by their grandparents. They worked on the farm, milking cows, growing kumara, corn, pumpkins, and watermelon. There was no power on the island: electricity came from batteries and they cooked on open fires. Farm implements were horse-drawn, and the children rode to Kotukutuku Primary school in a covered wagon.