Here’s a great way to celebrate a beloved musician during Aotearoa Music Month. “Wha Cup!”, the trademark catchphrase of beloved musician, Aaron Tokona, has now been turned into a tagline, along with an ‘iconic’ photo of him for a t-shirt campaign raising awareness of mental health and support for the artist’s tamāhine, Asha.
The eponymous expression was coined by Aaron, alongside others like ‘mean’, ‘mick’ and ‘buzz’, all part of his colourful lexicon of his prankster stage banter.
As a key member of bands like Weta, AHoriBuzz, Bongmaster and Cairo Knife Fight, audiences were well versed in his rants and raves between songs. Politicians and decision-makers were often in the firing line for his jokes and jests. But he was equally fair to all political parties, taking them all down at one time or other for various actions and policies – especially homeliness, health and poverty.
Aaron passed away suddenly last June from a heart attack, leaving behind whanau and friends across the music industry from executive and school mate Morgan Donoghue, to members of Fly My Pretties, Anika Moa, ex-flatties Tom Larkin and Jon Toogood (the song ‘Pacifier’ was written about him) and a raft of others in the music community. Even the Prime Minister gave tribute on Twitter, affectionately labelling him “a wild, crazy, explosion of a frontman”.
The T-shirt campaign was inspired by a ‘crazy idea’ hatched by Aaron and long time friend and rock photographer, Alexander Hallag.
Alexander’s photo of Tokona is part of work built up over many performances. “I was making photographs during the 2015 AhoriBuzz tour. Aaron and I laughed about creating something, I dunno, ‘iconic’, that could maybe help others out. We both loved Jim Marshall’s photo of Johnny Cash ‘flippin’ the bird during his San Quentin concert. He grinned and said “I’ll give you that!”
“It was a running joke that as his photographer, I had to be ready at any time. It was like playing cat and mouse. Him alternating between various poses and moments of banter. One day he was in the middle of his set. I had a feeling he was going to do something…I moved quickly into place and got it, just in time. That was the gift! After the show he’d laugh and say he said “Did you get it? Maybe that could be ‘Iconic’. I show it to him: “Oh Yeah, Bro. Sure You’re ‘Iconic’. He he”. And he’s like “Wha Cup!”
“Aaron was such a generous soul,” says Hallag. “I wanted to give back to him and his memory. The music industry is well known for not always being the healthiest of careers. We shared a bond over music, mental health (Aaron was diagnosed as bi-polar) and having daughters around the same age. He helped me. We helped each other. We could talk to each other. I’ll always be thankful for that. Talking with him our normalised mental health struggles. I never felt judged, just fully accepted.”
Aaron was always providing assistance, on and off the stage to other musicians – supporting and believing in them, playing on their tours and albums, “…and being a great friend. He gave of himself so much. He had no ego. He was a great father to Asha. She was the centre of his world. That’s why I wanted to give back to him and to find a way to help support his daughter and to help others as we’d joked about when we ‘made’ that iconic photo. He had such a big heart, and it finally just burst.”
Proceeds from the sales go to support Aaron’s daughter Asha and MusicHelps (Āwhina Puoro).
Take a photo of yourself wearing the T and post it to facebook.com/whacup