Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hip Hop Voices 3 - Otara to Avondale

This is the third and last research dump from my story in this month's Metro magazine, 'Pasifika, Mon Amour'. It's from interview transcripts or, in Tim Mahon's case, the email he sent me.

Tim's account provides another perspective on the Proud phenomenon to that in the 1994 Planet magazine interview with Phil Fuemana that I posted earlier in the week and should be read alongside that. People's recollections of who did what, when vary.

I grabbed the Andy Murnane interview outside the Home Brew pop-up store on Ponsonby Road, after the police had been through. There's also a little snippet from Home Brew's Tom Scott -- you can get a more comprehensive view of what Tom and his crew do in the 20/20 report that screened last night on TV2.

I caught up with Ermehn during rehearsals for Remix the Orchestra at Auckland Town Hall. After we were done, he admitted, a little ruefully, that he hadn't heard Home Brew. Later, Tom said he'd never heard Ermehn's remarkable 1998 debut album, Samoans Part II. So let's increase the understanding.

Samoans Part II was released on Kayne Massey's Deepgrooves label, whose catalogue is currently in limbo (you can read Peter McLennan's fine work docuumenting Deepgrooves, which will form the basis of a book next year). I'm told it hardly sold at all.

But someone famous did buy a copy. When he visited New Zealand a decade ago, the legendary BBC radio DJ John Peel wandered into Real Groovy Records and sought advice on interesting items. He was treated dismissively by a young sales assistant -- and so went around the corner to Beautiful Music, where Gary Steel got the sales.

Among the items recommended by Gary was Samoans Part II. Peel took it home and played two tracks from it on his show as "Samoan gospel hip hop from New Zealand". Which just shows what great taste that man had -- because Samoans Part II is a lost New Zealand classic. Even Ermehn doesn't have a copy.

But I do, and I got permission from him this week to upload a couple of tracks. One is the single, 'Don't Be Late', a garage party song, and the other is 'Who Holds the Knife', which describes a South Auckland community in fear of the then-unidentified rapist Joseph Thompson.

Right-click to download:

Don't Be Late

Who Holds the Knife

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Ermehn (aka Herman Loto, responsible business owner)

My first album [1998's Samoans Part II] was about my backyard and my upbringing.

Nowadays, hip hop is much more out there in terms of technology. Back then it was hard for me to even get into the studio and record. I think I was quite lucky back then, being a kid from Otara who had to bus into the city, or get a lift.

Nowadays people are more open to the idea of it. It's like part of the furniture in a lot of households in South Auckland, on all the radio stations.

It's like the Pasifika festival -- it's part of the city now. You go there and you see that hip hop is part of our culture now. They've incorporated it into their cultures. It's truly embedded in Polynesian culture.

When I came into the central city, the Auckland central brown kids already had their own kind of hip hop and they didn't know quite how to take us. We were like the cavemen. We had more hood stories and ghetto stories.

We met Upper Hutt Posse and Dam Native. They were Maori, we were islanders -- but a beer and the smoking of weed sorts everything out.

What we had in common was the hip hop language. And I was getting educated just listening to the white boys like Urban Disturbance -- they were using bigger words than us! Because we had poor education, we had to be more creative about how we painted the picture with our limited vocabulary. But we were the poor cousins.

It just keeps evolving. There's guys who've had kids and now they're picking up the mic and rapping.

It was just a sense of freedom. You could express yourself -- say what you wanted without being told, no you can't do that. For me, it was a way out. Rugby wasn't working for me, working for my dad wasn't working for me, education wasn't working for me -- the only thing I had was hip hop."

[On 'Who Holds the Knife'] That was part of my era. We'd walk down by Otara bridge and the cops would be hiding down there. Friends would get pulled over and asked questions. It hit close to home for us. Being islanders, we were welcoming of strangers -- but then everyone started locking their doors.

My next album is called Trained to Kill. It's still 'hood stories, but it's how I see things now -- as a mature adult.

Tom Scott (lead voice in Home Brew and @Peace, hip hop leprechaun)

I've never really thought about us being a racially-mixed group. We're from different places in Auckland, that's all I see. I try not to see the politics in it. To me, it's more personal than political.

I went back to the street I grew up in in Avondale, with 20/20. They wanted to see where I grew up. Nothing's changed at all. Everyone on the street was still there. Still the same people living in the same conditions.

The first local hip hop I was exposed to was 3 the Hard Way -- 'Hip Hop Holiday'. The video for that was filmed on Avondale Road and they came to my school in standard four. That was the only thing I was exposed to in Auckland hip hop. I never saw any movement -- to me they were just superstars.

Tim Mahon (former Blam Blam Blam bass player, and public sector rainmaker in Manukau)

I was Programme supervisor at the Otara Music Arts Centre from its inception in 1988. I had recently returned from London, where I had been living since the Blams' accident. I had no desire to reconnect with the music scene in Central Auckland and was wide-eyed and bushy-tailed at the prospect of working with emerging Pacific talent.

The first project I was involved with was an anti graffiti anti crime song done by one Charlie Brown [real name] from Mangere: MC Slam and Jam, 'Prove Me Wrong'. I introduced him to Alan Jansson and got some funding, I think from the Mayor Barry Curtis. It was recorded at Uptown when Uptown was in Waverley Street. I got commercial radio play on More FM, through Larry Somerville. It was later included on the Proud compilation.

 Semi MCs and Pacifican Descendants were the Manurewa and Mangere groups at the time. Andy Van was managing the Semis and I had contact with the Pacificans through Aorere College. I also vaguely remember running a rap festival in Manukau Square with the assistance of one Nikki Caro, who was on a PEP scheme through the University.

I was unhappy with the Music Art Centre as a concept because I saw that while the aims of its founders were laudable, the execution --particularly with it being Council-run -- wasn't. It still isn't the Motown that it was intended to be

By 1990, I had left the role at the music centre and become the Event Manager for Manukau City. This gave me far more freedom to develop what had been started. I presented an agenda item to Council Community Development Committee, headed by one Len Brown, on the promotion of traditional and contemporary art forms as a job magnet.

I applied for funding to Community Employment Group headed by Parekura Horomia and administered by the aptly-named Grant Power. With a couple of letters of reference, including from Neil Finn and Barry Curtis, I secured $30,000 to record an album of local talent for international release. I had argued successfully that if Manukau secured .005% of the English-speaking music industry worldwide, it would bring in $30 million to the local economy.

I suggest you ask Mike Chunn, because he believes that that 30 grand was the most focused, best-spent government funding for the arts ever.

Proud is now history. The best thing I did was step back and not try to own it, because once the child leaves home it has to stand on its own two feet. As a community development professional I did the right thing as the community must own a project. Otara and Mangere Manurewa and Clendon certainly did. OMC followed as did Phil Fuemana's label and all these other acts (including me championing Ma-V-Elle a little later).

We are still waiting for the Pacific version of Motown. The early 90s were very promising and some great acts have come from South Auckland. Yeah, I was called by Australian Rolling Stone the "white mid-wife of Polynesian hip hop" but speaking as a great-great grandmother that .005% has not been retained -- only entered by Pauly Fuemana. I am however immensely proud of the work I did in those days.

YDNA (aka Andy Murnane, co-founder, Dawn Raid Entertainment)

You have to have walked in our shoes to know what our hip hop lifestyle means to us. Our parents are out working, so we're out on the street playing -- and that gives us a perspective on life. So when you're an 11 year-old kid watching the street go by, watching all this madness you're almost an old soul in a young man's body.

That's what the hip hop generation's about. We turn anything into profit -- it's a very hustler mentality. We don't roll with the old rules, we're all about the new rules. And when you don't have rules in place creativity comes out, freedom comes out."

Yeah, I'm right in the establishment! It’s hilarious. But what I will say is I'm in the establishment my way. I don't wear a collar and tie, I still wear a baseball cap and a baggy t-shirt. And I'm a successful dude. We've taken our losses with Dawn Raid and come back even stronger. Hip hop's about we are who we are, you have to accept us our way.

The police and the government at large are always going to be afraid of anything that's different and new. They need to understand it's just the youth -- it's not different to what happened in the 60s or 70s and anything like that. Kids with intelligence -- you shouldn't be afraid of that.

Home Brew are telling you what your kids are doing. Don't be mad at them -- be a better parent.

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