Meet the Makers : Gene Rivers

Published: Friday 15 September, 2023

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In the lead up to the Stand Up Stand Out 23 Finals Showcase, more affectionately known as SUSO, we catch up with South Auckland's Gene Rivers (Ngā Puhi, Ngai Takato, Te Aupouri), an Arts & Culture Programmer for Auckland Council and one of the dedicated team responsible for bringing this incredible showcase of talent to our stage every year.

Talented rangatahi from all over Tāmaki Makaurau have been competing in heats and then semi-finals in music and dance categories to make it to the SUSO Finals Showcase held at Auckland Town Hall on Saturday, 23 September.

In this Meet the Makers special, we sit down with Gene and ask him about the history and background of SUSO and his hopes for this new generation of musicians and dancers.

Photo: Gene Rivers


How did Stand Up Stand Out get started?

SUSO started as the Manukau Secondary Schools Performing Arts Awards, as one of the founding programmes at OMAC, with OMAC being an initiative started by Tangaroa College students of the time, who advocated for an arts facility to help support and develop the young people of Ōtara, the wider South Auckland Māori and Pacific communities and aspiring musical talent.


How long has Stand Up Stand Out been going now?

32 years approximately.

Stand Up, Stand Out 2022 | Photo by Grant Apiata


How is this competition different to other talent competitions?

The diversity of the categories is the obvious difference, with dance (inclusive of hip hop, contemporary and cultural) and music (solo vocal, group vocal, bands and solo instrumental) part of the same platform. SUSO also allows for both original and cover performances across all music categories. But what really sets SUSO apart is its inclusive and supportive culture. This has been organically ingrained through its origins both geographical (Ōtara) and the Māori and Pacific communities that founded it.


Why is it important that Auckland Council and Auckland Live are presenting and supporting a music and dance competition for rangatahi?

Tāmaki is a UNESCO City of Music, this gives substantial rationale and leverage for this programme’s delivery and growing focus. The musical youth of Tāmaki are at a level that commands the attention and support of local government.

Stand Up, Stand Out 2022 | Photo by Grant Apiata


Going forward, what do you think these talented rangatahi can bring to our local music/dance scene?

The impact of SUSO alumni is already evident in the sector, with numerous alumni working and contributing to the Aotearoa music industry, in my opinion, SUSO represents the future of the Aotearoa music industry. I have no doubt SUSO will impact the face and sound of music coming out of this country in the immediate and long play.


Having seen rangatahi from all over Tāmaki Makaurau perform in the heats and semi-finals, what do you think is unique about the young music and dance scenes in our city?

The talent coming through SUSO is world class for its respective age. In particular, the ceiling of the talent coming through is so high, especially those coming from Tangata Moana communities, whose true impact is yet to be fully realised.

Stand Up, Stand Out 2022 | Photo by Grant Apiata


What excites you most about this generation of young performers?

The ridiculously high ceiling.


What does it mean to you personally to be able to work on projects like Stand Up Stand Out?

My grandfather was instrumental in supporting young Māori musicians of the showband era, to have this opportunity to do this work for Tangata Moana communities in particular, means everything to me but to be able to facilitate opportunity for young artists in general is something I’m super passionate about.The truth is, the talent in Tāmaki demands this level of support and more!


Stand Up, Stand Out 2022 | Photo by Grant Apiata


As the finalists are preparing for the Finals Showcase, what advice would you give them?

Own your brilliance as an emerging artist, don't be shy of your light, you’ve earned this opportunity to shine through hard work and dedication to your craft. Enjoy every part of the experience to come and take all the learnings you can from this as part of your ongoing journey in the arts.

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