Ariana Tikao is a singer, composer, taonga puoro player, and writer of Kāi Tahu descent who was honoured as an Arts Laureate in 2020. Her work explores themes relating to her Kāi Tahu identity and mana wahine, often drawing upon historical kōrero from her ancestors. She has been mentored by Richard Nunns and Brian Flintoff, two of the people behind the revival of taonga puoro (Māori instruments). Ariana regularly works with other taonga puoro exponents collaborating and sharing knowledge through wānanga (workshops).
She started writing waiata as a student of Māori Studies at Otago University in the early 90s. This led to the formation of folk group Pounamu, and then she went on to release three solo albums: Whaea (2002), Tuia (2008), and From Dust to Light (2012). She has recently released a bilingual single Fly You Home, and the te reo version, Kōtuku. She is a member of the art music quartet, Tararua who toured their show Bird Like Men in 2022 with Chamber Music New Zealand.
In 2015 Ariana and Philip Brownlee were commissioned by the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra to compose the first concerto for taonga puoro Ko te Tātai Whetū which has since been performed by various groups including Stroma, the Dunedin Symphony Orchestra, and the Nelson Symphony Orchestra. In 2016 Ariana sang in John Psathas’s epic international collaboration No Man’s Land. In 2021 she performed with the NZSO for their Alien Weaponry collaboration, as well as in Gareth Farr’s Ngā Hihi o Matariki symphony.
Ariana’s music has featured in television, film, theatre, dance, and for online media. Whatever the setting, Ariana always brings artistic integrity, and what one reviewer described as “depth and dignity,” making her a sought-after talent and collaborator in the arts scene in New Zealand today. She is also a published poet and author, and has an MA in Creative Writing from the prestigious International Institute of Modern Letters. She published her book Mokorua through Auckland University Press last November, and was recently selected as a 2023 Writer in Residence at the University of Canterbury.