Hard News by Russell Brown



Think of the most famous and newsworthy black man who is not Barack Obama. Kanye? Jay-Z?  Steph Curry?  In the mid-1970s, Muhammad Ali was 10 times that famous, infinitely more newsworthy.

In October 1974, only three years, after live satellite transmission had become available, 880,000 New Zealanders sat down one afternoon and watched The Rumble in the Jungle, from a population of only three million. No All Black test this year is likely to attract that many viewers.

As kids, we were too young to have taken in the controversy of Ali's black nationalism and his refusal of the draft in the 1960s. We knew he used to be called Cassius Clay, but not the significance of his change of name. We understood him through Johnny Wakelin's minor hit of a tribute 'Black Superman' – almost the whitest song you could think of – and not through the Nation of Islam.

I remember watching the Foreman bout as a 12 year-old, and being confused and a little horrified as Ali backed into the ropes, covered up and let Foreman pound him. Then amazed, as it all turned out to have been a ruse. The following year, as the rematch with Joe Frazier loomed in Manila, I told a friend in the playground that Ali would win because he was smart and George Foreman had been "big and dumb".

Incredibly, Ali's bout with Frazier in 1975 was his fourth that year. He fought Chuck Wepner in March, then Ron Lyle and the Englishman Joe Bugner. Not all of these bout were televised here, but they were on the radio. I remember another kid and me being allowed to stay late in the classroom one day so we could listen to a fight on the school intercom.

The next year, Ali again had four title fights – and a ridiculous match-up with a Japanese wrestler. He announced his retirement after defeating Ken Norton in a controversial decision. And he should have kept that promise. Nothing that happen afterwards added to his legend, everything contributed to his future health problems.

By chance, on Friday night I watched Soul Power, Jeff Levy-Hinte's film about about the music festival in Kinshasa that Don King got up to accompany the Foreman fight.

 There's an anxious feel to proceedings and many of the musicians seem to be trying on for the first time the African consciousness being trumpeted by a kaftan-wearing King. The star of the film is the remarkable James Brown, who seems to handle both the adulation and the politics (BB King is less comfortable). Ali is a side character, who sometimes handles the extraordinary pressure on him by going off into his poetic flights of fancy. His politics are still present.

The next day, after the news of Ali's grave illness and then death had come through, I watched Leon Gast's remarkable film When We Were Kings, which tells a different part of the story with similar pictures. It brings home quite what a surprise and what a risk Ali's rope-a-dope seemed to everyone watching: to George Plimpton and Norman Mailer, and to a schoolkid in New Zealand.

Inevitably, much of the chatter this past day or two has been around Ali's Muslim identity – Donald Trump has tragicomically helped by hailing the man he would have deported – but some of the subtleties have been lost. When Ali joined the Nation of Islam in 1964, he joined an organisation that had as much to do with black Freemasonry as it did with what we now understand as Islam.

My measure for the impact of his Nation of Islam rhetoric in the 60s is being at a Public Enemy show in London in 1987 when Professor Griff stepped forward and said the same things (including a complex exposition of Nation of Islam theology that culminated in the conclision that "white people are wicked"). It was tense as hell in that room. I can only imagine the impact of these things being said on American national television. And yet, then, as now, there was racism to be named and condemned.

Only months after the Foreman fight, Ali turned away from the Nation of Islam, apparently tiring of the organisation's deadly internal politics, and embraced mainstream Sunni Islam. Later in his life, he studied Sufism.

All of this, of course, was lost on kids in New Zealand and all the other places he was famous. We knew only that we were seeing a star.


Maori movie magic – but what's up with TV?

Media Take editorial meetings tend to be discursive affairs, occasionally to a fault. And so last week, we were talking about Taika Waititi's success, with Hunt for the Wilderpeople being licensed for all territories and displacing Taika's Boy as the highest-grossing film at the New Zealand box office.

Both are films by a Maori director, with a Maori sensibility. Tipare Iti remarked on the way that these "non-explaining" Maori films are so readily accepted overseas. And at home too: six of the top 10 earning New Zealand films are Maori films.

So if these movies are mainstream smashes, what's the problem with TV? Why do programmers regard Maoriness as something to be avoided?

With a new NZ On Air survey showing that women and non-Pakeha are under-represented in screen production (although the picture isn't uniform – Pasifika are doing notably well in directing roles, for example, and Asian New Zealanders are almost absent everywhere) we broadened the topic to screen diversity in general and invited some guests.

The week's show featured New Zealand Film Commission boss Dave Gibson, director of the forthcoming 'Poi E' film Tearepa Kahi, producer and director Libby Hakaraia, writer and actor Victor Rodger (who talked about similar issues as part of the Auckland Writers Festival recently) and Maori stage innovator Regan Taylor. It was lively and good.

You can watch the broadcast episode here on demand.

And there's also a 15-minute online-only korero with all the panelists together.

Sadly, no video exists of the subsequent discussion at the pub afterwards, but that got pretty lively too :-)


Friday Music: New Classical

It must be all of two years since Shayne Carter undertook to invite me into his former Grey Lynn man-cave and play me the new solo album that had sprung from his immersion in classical music. He was enthusiastic about breaking free of his rock guitar persona, teaching himself piano and simply doing something different.

We never did get in that listening session; it seemed the record was never quite ready to share. Shayne is nothing if not a perfectionist. But late yesterday, this appeared on Bandcamp. It's a taster for the forthcoming album Offsider and features Shayne on vocals, piano and guitar, Gary Sullivan on drums, Nick Roughan on bass, Tamasin Taylor on strings and Richard Steele on bass – and it's moody as hell:

Yup, okay, I'm in. Bring it on, Shayne.

The lyrics are pretty interesting too.


Also fresh on Bandcamp, Cardigan Bay, a new solo album from Blair Parkes. It, too, was recorded in a man-cave, but in New Brighton. I can testify that things get pretty chilly in that shed, but there's something about the way Blair records that produces a lovely, warm, thick sound.

Nice to hear my buddy Andrew Moore guesting on one of the tracks on his way through town too.


Those who live with me can testify that I love nothing more than a good music documentary. So I've been greatly enjoying Soundbreaking on Prime, its occasional flushes of American-centrism notwithstanding. (And how could they go straight from mentioning disco to Saturday Night Fever?) I enjoy the creators' willing to transcend genre and draw unexpected connections.

When there's nothing on the telly there is, of course, a wealth of older music documentaries to be found on YouTube. I suspect they're there for largely the same reason we miss out on so many on TV – music licensing.

It's difficult and expensive to license individual works, territory by territory, for broadcast distribution. The BBC might have a blanket music license but most broadcasters it might sell to do not. On the other hand, YouTube Content ID works very well in identifying master recordings. It tracks literally millions of them. And while record companies and publishers may justifiably complain about the fairly meagre returns from the system, they're not taking them down.

So I can still watch this 2014 UK Channel short doco about jungle, the precursor to drum and bass.

I'm not the world's biggest D&B fan, but I was still in London in 1991, when it was all fermenting in local raves, and even back home here I was willing to play those frantic records on the radio when some other DJs were turning up their noses.

Like all foundation dance scenes, jungle was about community and it offered something that its adherents felt they'd never really reclaim once it passed. But jungle is distinct in that it was actually forged in Britain, rather than discovered and popularised the way acid house was. And it was multi-racial in a way that American scenes generally have not been.

This 1994 look at jungle from the BBC programme All Black is a fascinating follow-up to the Channel 4 one. It features quite a few of the same faces, looking younger and slimmer. And although the programme, understandably, initially focuses on it as a black form, it opens up to the idea that jungle is genuinely multi-racial. The interview in which one of the scene's stars, UK Apache, talks about his ethnic heritage (Arab, Asian, African) and how jungle, as a British form, has made him proud to be British, is remarkable.

From there, of course, jungle moved into the many flavours of drum and bass and eventually to dubstep. The sounds it spawned underlie a good deal of American popular music. Those kids from London, with their crazy sped-up breakbeats, had more of an influence than they could have imagined.


The Auckland heritage consultancy Reverb has offered a fascinating glimpse of what's being done to preserve the most important parts of the St James Theatre as the venue is incorporated into a new residential tower. There's a collection of work-in-progress photos here on Facebook.

But perhaps the most remarkable is this glimpse of a work most of us didn't know existed:

They say:

"This wonderful 1957 mosaic by Maurice Smith is being removed from the Odeon Cinema wall (which is being demolished) in a painstaking process, including the individual documentation of each tile.... Lots of thanks to those involved in this process, which is being filmed by Margot McRae as part of her ongoing St James Theatre documentary."

There's more in Auckland Council's Heritage Advisory Panel May 16 agenda here.

The important thing to remember – and I have to keep saying this – is that all this careful work could be for nought if the government doesn't come to the party with its share, which is likely to be around $10 million from existing heritage funding, towards a $60 million total restoration cost, with Auckland Council having committed in principle to $15 million. C'mon Maggie Barry!


Quite a few things on in Auckland tonight.

There's The Wine Cellar and Whammy's Borderline festival, featuring Princess Chelsea, Jay Clarkson, Soccer Practise, Don McGlashan, Phil Dadson and many more.

Yoko Zuna follow up their new all-star EP with a show at the King's Arms.

And there's a rather good dance party in the unlikely surrounds of The Winchester, with the excellent nu-disco DJ Alkalino leading a solid local bill including Bevan Keys.

The fact that Alkalino is playing in some old clubrooms says a bit about the local club infrastructure, but that gets a fillip tonight with the opening of Impala, in the Shortland Street basement that once was Code.

It's the brainchild of Daniel Farley and Reuben Rivers Smith, who say they've invested a lot in the refit and a new sound system. I went along to the launch party on on Wednesday, which was a slightly odd affair – there was no sign of the promised performance lineup (including Boycrush) by the time I left, just some pretty terrible DJing. And the vaunted new sound system sounded to me like it needs some tuning. But the layout of the place itself is very cool and there's a big dancefloor. I hope it goes well for them.



 Just the one this week, because the time's getting on. Local lads Leisure get a nice remix:

And finally, because it was in Soundbreaking and it made us think, well, that was a good song:

Sheila E - The Glamorous Life (Music Video) from Mary Lambert, Director on Vimeo.


The Hard News Friday Music Post is kindly sponsored by:

The Audio Consultant


Medical cannabis advocacy you can get behind

On Monday, One News reported the case of Warren Edney, who suffers excruciating pain as a result of an aggressive form of multiple sclerosis. His specialist has him prescribed him the cannabis-based medicine Sativex to ease that pain.

Although Sativex has been approved for use by Medsafe, every prescription must be indivdually approved by the Ministry of Health. That approval has been granted.

The problem? Sativex is not funded by Pharmac – and Warren, like any sickness beneficiary, can't afford $1200 a month to buy it for himself. Pharmac is refusing to fund him via its "exceptional circumstances" process on the basis that there is an alternative treatment available. That alternative is to have the muscle relaxant Baclofen injected into his spine.

"Why would you be injecting things into someone's spinal cord when you can get them a mouth spray instead?" says Shane Le Brun, the medical cannabis advocate who brought the story to One News.

Shane, the coordinator of the new charity Medical Cannabis Awareness New Zealand, notes that in the US, Warren's condition is regarded as an explicit case for the prescription of Sativex.

"He needs funding, he's a special case. He's the 1% of MS patients. Even the MS caseworker who referred him to me in the first place had never met anyone like him."

I haven't met Warren, but I have spoken a number of times to Dr Huhana Hickey, who also has MS, about the relief of being able to give up a cocktail of conventional painkillers in favour of the Sativex spray. She is very positive about the efficacy of Sativex – which contains a 50-50 ratio of the two main cannabinoids, THC and CBD – in easing the neurological pain associated with her condition. She describes how it worked for her on the MCANZ website.

Shane is nothing if not pragmatic about what's possible given the cost of Sativex, which is currently the only pharamceutical-grade medical cannabis product approved for use in New Zealand.

"People talk about it getting funded for off-label, for [simple] pain, but that'll never happen. As much as I love medical cannabis, I wouldn't fund it either. A methadone pill for nerve pain is 18.7 cents for a 5mg tablet  – versus $300-odd per bottle of Sativex. It's just not a worthwhile investment for pain.

"But for MS, and those rare cases where it's actually saved the life of a young woman with epilepsy, saying there's not enough evidence when the patient is the evidence, I just think it's a kick in the teeth."

For now, MCANZ is aiming to raise money for two purposes. Firstly, to fund medical cannabis treatment for the patients who most need it. Secondly, to facilitate formally accredited training on medical cannabis for medical professionals.

"We want to fund Sativex in the here and now for patients. We just want to help people. We also recognise that our first barrier to access is not what's happening in Wellington, it's the intransigence of the medical community. There's a lot of patients who would qualify for Sativex if they had a different specialist.

"So part of that is that we've got a medical cannabis training package that's accredited in the US against their continuing medical education requirements for doctors. We've emailed around the medical schools here and that can be transferred and recognised for medical training here.

"A doctor has to do 80 hours [of CME] every three years and this package would cover 12 hours of it. It'll just allow them to be more confident about it when talking with the patients. And hopefully it will embolden a few of them to stick their necks out and prescribe Sativex.

"Because the way things are going, if we had 20 products tomorrow, most patients still wouldn't be able to get access, because access is through their GPs and specialists. We've had patients have alcohol suggested to them as an alternative for pain relief."

I began talking to Shane after he began participating in discussions here. He's been quite transparent throughout the formation of the charity and I've been impressed by the attention to detail. He and several others  involved in MCANZ had been associated with United in Compassion, a group with similar aims which got buy-in in Wellington policy circles but foundered aimd the messy personal business of its high-profile founder Toni-Marie Matich. Apart from anything else, MCANZ is a registered charity, while Matich never even got that far.

That charitable status makes Shane wary of straying into political activism, but his end goal is "basically what the Drug Fundation has said – we need more medical cannabis products that are Pharmac-funded. That's our end-state as well."

The recent results of a review ordered by Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne into the criteria that guide his approvals of non-pharmaceutical grade medical cannabis products were disappointing. There were two nudges in the right direction: the removal of an onerous and inappropriate guideline that treatment be administered in hospital, and the removal  of the word "all" from the guideline that reasonably applicable treatments have been trialled.

The official recommendations of the review include some bitching about patients and their families "who consider that they have a right to access cannabis-based products before the full range of conventional, evidence- based medications are trialled," but the failure to seek any input at all from patients seems extraordinary. The failure to consider palliative care as a special case equally so.

"To be honest, we weren't expecting big changes but asking the same people the same questions six months apart was never going to open the gates," says Shane.

 "It was great that they got a bit more involvement from people who are actually out there prescribing medical cannabis, but from our view, it was would be good to get some international medical cannabis experts in there for the next review. Some doctors in the states would dispense more medical cannabis in six months than the entirety of New Zealand has ever had. Basically, to qualify as an expert on prescribing here for the review panel, you've probably prescribed it five or six times."

It is reasonable and understandable for the experts consulted to hold that cannabis-based medicines should be approved in the same way as another medicine. Or rather, it would be if that were the case.

Granted, applicants for non pharmaceutical-grade will soon no longer have to show that every other possible treatment has been tried. But Section 22 of the Misuse of Drugs Regulations requires that every use of a cannabis-based product be subject to ministerial approval. In the case of Sativex, a MedSafe-approved, pharmaceutical-grade medicine, that approval is delegated to ministry officials, but it's still an anamolous requirement.

"Section 22 makes exemptions for Schedule 1 drugs from needing ministerial approval – and there's an exemption for cocaine, opium and morphine. We would like pharmaceutical-grade medical cannabis products, as decided by MedSafe, to be on that list as well.

"Since the 70s, the law has been screwed against cannabis to the point that cocaine is easier to prescribe. And I don't think dentists have been using that for 20-odd years.

"If you say the exemption should be for pharmaceutical-grade, as opposed to medical cannabis products generally, that makes it a bit more politically acceptable. It opens the door for the most respected products and for the products that are likely to come out of Australia. If it's pharmaceutical-grade and it's been approved, people shouldn't have to jump through all these hoops. It should be treated the same as any other medicine. In saying that, we've got plenty of medicines being used for things they haven't been trialled for anyway."

There's an additional wrinkle in the fact that one of the reasons Pharmac's advisory committee advised against the funding of Sativex last year has nothing to do with its efficacy or safety. The committee "considered that the risk of diversion in the New Zealand setting, should Sativex be funded, is high due to the inherent nature of its active substances and the ease of administration."

Equivalent bodies elsewhere in the world have taken a very different view. To deprive someone like Warren of funded treatment on such a basis seems ethically questionable, to put it mildly.

I'm told that the Ministry of Health is preparing a list of non-pharmaceutical grade cannabis products it could consider approving, which would avoid cases like that of Helen Kelly, who applied to use a product whose manufacturers couldn't produce an assay. But for now, the  cost of the only approved pharmaceutical-grade product, Sativex, is a roadblock. So what's the solution?

 "Grow it here in New Zealand. And to hell with pharmaceutical-quality and getting trials. Just go one step back and go to food grade, where you can guarantee it's safe but you just don't have any pharmaceutical trials to prove its efficacy. That would be an interim step – just get the products first and worry about the trials later.

"There's a mouth spray made with a CO2 extraction process – so there's no solvents involved – and they use a coconut oil as the base. It's just like Sativex and they make in the US for a third of the price. There's no reason we can't do it here in New Zealand."

Shane, an IT professional (and former Army munitions officer) has a personal stake in the issue. – his wife developed a severe chronic pain condition.

"At one point my wife was on nearly 200mg of oxycodone a day, prior to her spinal surgery – which the public system weaseled out of doing and and ACC tried to weasel out of doing. The surgery was a moderate success in that functionally she's a lot better, but she's left with chronic pain, more than likely due to the delays in getting the surgery in the first place. And she's been on every opioid under the sun."

Her pain is being adequately managed now with methadone, but that's not the case for everyone. And it's the people who would benefit most from access to the current, MedSafe-approved medicine – people like Warren – who MCANZ is seeking to help first.

You can help too by donating here. Smaller donations are taken via GiveALittle but MCANZ will also discuss larger donations and requests for donations to be earmarked for a specific purpose.

I'm donating a substantial advertising campaign to MCANZ – it'll start soon, but I wanted to write this post to explain what it's about before launching. I'm also happy to pass on offers of help in kind.


Friday Music: The Music Story

As Karyn Hay noted at Wednesday night's announcement, it's been a poorly-kept secret in the industry that Auckland Museum has been preparing a major New Zealand music exhibition. But if the reveal of Volume: Making Music in New Zealand comes as news to you, you should regard it as happy news.

The exhibition was conceived a year and a half ago by Recorded Music New Zealand's Mark Roach and it has been shaped through research and writing from Graham Reid and the input of an advisory panel that includes Simon Grigg and Aroha Harawira.

It builds on the momentum that has gathered behind our popular music heritage in recent years, which includes Audioculture, a sweeping programme of digital re-releases guided by the RMNZ board and a fledgling Flying Nun Foundation (Ian Dalziel and I are on the board of that). So it's the right show at the right time.

Among other things, Mark looks after the New Zealand Music Hall of Fame and the hope is that the exhibition will be a significant step towards a permanent home for that initiative. It doesn't open till October 28 (and runs until May 2017), but you can get an idea of the flavour from the promo clip released this week:


Josell Ramos' 2003 film Maestro cops an undistinguished score of 36 on Metacritic and it's not hard to see why. The cinematography is mostly terrible, the soundtrack is badly mastered and irrelevant in parts, and its narrative is so jumbled that anyone who doesn't already know the story will find it mystifying. But it provides a rare insight into the early days of dance music in New York, when a community of mostly gay black men forged the culture everyone else embraced five, 10, 20 years later. There's even film from The Loft.

The film's owners appear to have given up on selling it and are instead concentrating on licensing the rare footage it contains (I'm guessing they have more than is in the movie for anyone with the budget to license the music, which they presumably didn't). Eight of the nine parts posted to YouTube have been taken down on copyright claims, but the first 10 minutes remains.

A comment under the clip claims that mint copies of the DVD have been going for as much as $450, which is daft. There's a magnet URL if you want to try your luck.


Bill Direen's back catalogue has (quite rightly) enjoyed some reverent treatment in recent years, with the German label Unwucht re-releasing his early EPs on beautiful-sounding 12" vinyl. Now, it's the turn of the first Builders album, Beatin Hearts, which is to be re-released as a vinyl LP by the US label Grapefruit. There's a pre-order deal for the album and the limited-edition 7" Buildermash EP.

Meanwhile, here's 'Alien' in its anxious fucking glory. That's Chris Knox on climactic backing vocals:

And over at Audioculture, Roger Shepherd writes about writing his Flying Nun story.


The New Zealand International Film Festival has announced its music film lineup and it includes a Zappa doco and Barbara Kopple's Miss Sharon Jones!

Over at Fact, James Blake presents a list of his favourite b-sides and rarities for you to show off to your friends with.


My buddies The Onedin Line play with Sleepers Union at the latter's album launch gig at the Crown Hotel in Dunedin tonight. And they got a David Mitchell poster!

There's an intriguingly elcectic lineup for The Wine Cellar's multi-night Borderline festival next week– from Princess Chelsea and Soccer Practuce to Jay Clarkson and Phil Dadson. Leonard Charles with fully funky band sounds enticing. Nightly tickets or festival passes are available from Under the Radar.

And 95bFM presents its Fancy New Band showcase at the King's Arms tonight. Station manager Hugh Sundae will be dressing up in a pilot's uniform and picking up punters in a bus beforehand. The route runs a loop through K Road, Ponsonby, Grey Lynn, Arch Hill and Kingsland. Like this:


Fazerdaze has released a simple video that seems to perfectly fit her dreamy, disarming song 'Little Uneasy'. As Martyn Pepperell's interview for The 405 reveals, it's made in Hobsonville, on Auckland's expanding fringe. No, I didn't pick it either, but it looks like a sweet place for a ride.

And Lawrence Arabia released this late-Beatlesque heads up for his forthcoming album Absolute Truth, which is out on Flying Nun in July. He explained the song's genesis to The Pantograph Punch.



It was a nice surprise when Lontalius dropped a cover of Anika Moa's 'Dreams in My Head' into his set at his recent album launch. And this morning he put a recording on Soundcloud. Yay.

Unknown Mortal Orchestra dropped a new track this week. It conjures Prince and it is funky as shit. I like this a lot.

Loop Recordings crew Yoko Zuna today release Luminols, an EP recorded at Red Bull Studios with a cluster of guest vocalists, including P Diggs, Laughton Kora and Tom Scott. But I'm going with LarzRanda and Heavy yo:

Space Above are Aaron Short of the Naked and Famous, Sam MCarthy and Maddie North. Their deep, driving debut is out now:

They've also done a more mysterious mixtape for A Label Called Success:

RocknRolla Soundsystem are back with a fresh edit. This time, it's Toots! (Free download with a bit of Hypeddit palaver.)

Pitch Black have re-upped tracks from their 2009 album of remixes, Rhythm, Sound and Movement. And it still sounds pretty nice:

A neat little mash-up of Juju's 'African Rhythms' and Fela's 'Sorrow Tears and Blood'. Click through for download options:

Righto - kitchen dancing time. Perth's Casual Connection have dropped a bunch of reworks on Soundcloud as free downloads, including this little corker:


The Hard News Friday Music Post is kindly sponsored by:

The Audio Consultant