TV Review: Songs from the Inside

Songs from the Inside is a brilliant documentary series currently on Maori TV about four musicians coaching inmates at Arohata and Rimutaka to write their own songs.

The documentary is a welcome antidote to “reality TV”. Both the producer Maramena Roderick and director Julian Arahanga are very aware that they do not want to create a prison version of Idol.

There are so many shows today glamorizing the cops and encouraging us to identify with their brutality – like Highway Patrol – and an endless stream of crime shows trying to make us support the police and ‘law and order’ panics. Songs from the Inside cuts against all of this, and all of the right-wing ‘law and order’ politics of both main parties from the last decades. It is not afraid to show colonisation, racism, loss of language and culture, and oppression, as issues that lead to so many young Maori men and women ending up in prison.

What the documentary manages to do is portray both the musicians – Anika Moa, Warren Maxwell, Maisey Rika and Ruia Aperahama – and inmates’ relationships developing throughout the series in a breathtakingly honest and brave way. The openness and trust that develops between them allows the documentary to explore issues of sexuality, drugs, crime, and remorse. And above all, the documentary humanizes the inmates/students so that viewers can identify and relate to them.

Even though the show isn’t explicitly political, in today’s New Zealand media culture telling those stories is a radical move.

Songs from the Inside is on Sundays 8PM. Previous episodes can be watched on demand.

Listen to the interview featuring the producer and director of Songs discussing these issues and more with Kim Hill.