The difference to most prison docos is that Songs from the Inside treated the prisoners as human beings, which is important considering the large amount of media attention given to dehumanising inmates.
On March 17, the NZ Herald reported:
Directed by Julian Arahanga, the actor turned director who you might remember as Nig Heke in Once Were Warriors, Songs From the Inside grew out of a programme by music teacher Evan Rhys Davies who trialled it at Waikato's Springhill Prison in the late 2000s.
Though music therapy has been used in prisons around the world, Davies' premise for his programme is to get answers out of prisoners rather than locking them up and forgetting about them.
What impressed me the most was the musical talent displayed. From the beautiful intro song The Gift by Warren Maxwell, to the perfect harmonies throughout the 13 shows, Songs from the Inside exhibited some truly exceptional talent.
On March 31, the Listener reported:
The channel gives the despised reality genre a welcome blast of authenticity with Songs from the Inside, which takes four stellar, nervous musicians – Anika Moa, Maisey Rika, Warren Maxwell (Trinity Roots, Little Bushman) and Ruia Aperahama – inside Arohata and Rimutaka prisons to teach songwriting to inmates. Or, as music teacher Evan Davies explains, “to put your balls on the line”.
It’s sort of Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison meets Gareth Malone, who brought the joys of choral singing to the mean streets of South Oxhey in The Choir. The musicians get stern instruction at a training session on keeping empathy in check. As Moa puts it, “A two-hour presentation on not getting got.” Maxwell frets about some of the warnings. “Especially with that korero about gangland turning up at your whare, saying, ‘I know where your kids go to school.’” Actor Jim Moriarty, an old hand at working a tough crowd, is reassuring: “‘Don’t trust them. They’re going to manipulate you’ – doesn’t that happen in your industry anyway?”
First meetings between musicians and inmates were raw and moving. For some of the new pupils, good lyrics aren’t going to be much of a stretch. “Freedom is not on the other side of these concrete brick walls,” said Tama. “It’s waiting to be found every day inside of us by choice.” Nelly from Porirua, mother of six, saw an opportunity to “upskill in my music”. The series looks set to be a persuasive argument against the “throw away the key and let them rot” brigade. Happily, it’s also entertaining television. Cam from Whangarei had been on the phone to his mum. “She can’t believe I’m doing a production thing like this,” he reported. Outside or in, a reality star is a reality star.
With a little encouragement, thirteen tracks were recorded and turned into a commercially viable product. The rehabilitative qualities this would have encouraged are invaluable.
Spasifik Mag reported:
The result is a deeply personal conclusion to the series. The four artists - Moa, Maxwell, Rika and Aperahama - provide backing vocals and supplementary music, with additional beats by P-Money and drums by Riki Gooch.
Proceeds of CD sales will go to three New Zealand charities: New Zealand Riding For The Disabled Association Inc, Prison Fellowship New Zealand and the National Collective of Independent Women’s Refuges Inc.
Songs from the Inside is the kind of television NZ on Air should be funding.