New Zealand hip hop is one area of Mâori Contemporary Performing Arts that is ever evolving within New Zealand’s local, national, and international communities. With influences from abroad and the Pacific, New Zealand Mâori hip- hop has created its own flavor and made its own unique impact on New Zealand culture. In this essay I will explore the background of New Zealand hip hop and the impacts it has made in New Zealand, how and why it has so easily assimilated into Mâori and Islander culture and highlight Che Fu as the quintessential New Zealand hip-hop artist of the moment.
Hip-hop and hip-hop culture first made an impact in the New Zealand arena around 1979 with the release of the US gangster movie “The Warriors,” the rise of the breakdancing craze which was introduced in Auckland by Samoans who had learnt of it from neighboring American Samoa, and the release of the Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight” in New Zealand in 1980. This brought the four original elements of New York hip hop culture to New Zealand, namely breakdancing, graffiti, rapping and DJing. By 1983, these hip hop elements had become very popular among Mâori in urban areas such as Christchurch, Wellington and Auckland. According to wikipedia “Most of the first hip hop performers from the country, such as Dalvanius Prime, whose “Poi E” was a major hit, were Maori.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Music_of_New_Zealand) Although “Poi E” had no rapping and was therefore not pure hip hop, it marked a shift from reggae and funk which had previously been the favored genres for Mâori musicians.
Like with hip-hop in the United States, the early works were apolitical and fun, but around the latter half of the 1980s, a shift occurred that made hip hop more political. Using the example of the New York based Public Enemy, the New Zealand group Upper Hutt Posse, and many others focused on political messages such as racism, persecution and self determination with a decidedly less friendly, more militaristic, façade. The Upper Hutt Posse’s 1988 album, “E Tu EP,” was the first entire album of locally produced hip hop and was recorded with both Mâori and English lyrics, making it significant step towards the popular revival of Te Reo Mâori.
Today’s New Zealand hip hop atmosphere is much more diverse, both culturally with the addition of many different Pacific cultures into a local variant known as Urban Pasifika, as well as stylistically. Although political messages and protest content are still strong, the sound has evolved into a more radio friendly one that allows enjoyment of the music on both the deeper level and a more superficial level as well. Current popular artists such as Che Fu, Nesian Mystik, Scribe and Savage, all contribute to the Mâori-ness of New Zealand hip hop and allow for today’s youth to identify with them as positive role models of success in New Zealand.
Additionally, the lyrical content of such artists allows for deep thinking and leads to deeper understanding of many issues facing young people, especially young Mâori and Islander people in New Zealand. As Gareth Shute elaborates “Indeed, many of the subjects that are discussed in Hip Hop may be poorly represented in other disciplines; for example, issues facing urban youth are better represented in the Southside compilation Str8 from the Streets than in any poetry collection I haveseen.” (http://www.nzepc.auckland.ac.nz/misc/shute.asp) It is also interesting to note that although it was a style of music that originated outside of New Zealand and even the Pacific, hip hop has stylistic tendencies that make it fit nicely into the traditional Mâori style of the oral passing down of knowledge. It has been noted that the first steps towards the creation of lyrical music occurred when prehistoric groups of people began to fit words into existing melodies previously sung with meaningless sounds. Songs developed from simple sounds to repeated phrases, then on to more complex stanzas which could repeat in patterns. “By standardizing language in this way, information could be held in a form which was more easily memorized and passed down. A similar method can be seen in the oral traditions of Maori and other Pacific peoples, and is interesting to keep in mind given that hip hop has been so widely taken up by artists with a Pacific heritage.” (http://www.nzepc.auckland.ac.nz/misc/shute.asp)
Furthermore, New Zealand hip hop artists are continuing to push the boundaries of their genre and are becoming more innovative. Che-Fu says “My new album, it’s kind of like if you gave a caveman a sampler. It’s all about my unconventional approach to beat-making… if I were to give it a name I’d call it beat-mess,” about his third album, the long-awaited “Beneath The Radar,” which, according to his website is “a dynamic and utterly distinctive platter that masterfully showcases his innovative approach to hip hop.” (http://www.che-fu.com/biography.html) Che’s philosophy is to “keep an open mind.” It is one shared by many other New Zealand hip hop artists. Che Fu was born Che Rauhihi-Ness and is of Mâori-Niuean background and is one of New Zealand’s most successful male vocalists. His musical career began in high school when along with some friends he formed a group called The Low Down Dirty Blues Band whose name was later changed to Supergrove. Their debut album, “Traction'” sold triple platinum and won countless awards. In 1996, Che and the band parted ways and it was not long after that he went on to have a number one single, “Chains,” in fact, it was only a week after leaving Supergrove. In 1997, Che released his first solo album entitled “2b S.Pacific” which won many accolades from critics and swept the New Zealand Music Awards. The next album he completed was “The Navigator” and then he formed a live touring band called the Krates to perform at various venues throughout New Zealand. Che Fu is the quintessence of a New Zealand hip hop artist, beginning with his cultural roots which are tied to both Mâori and other Pacific Islanders, all the way through to his determination to be innovative within the hip hop music scene. All of these elements tie together to form this one aspect of Mâori Contemporary Performing Arts, that makes it unique to this time and place.
Shute, G. (2002). Hip Hop in Aotearoa as a Contemporary Art-form. Retrieved June 1, 2006, from http://www.nzepc.auckland.ac.nz/misc/shute.asp
Wikipedia (2006). New Zealand Music. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Music_of_New_Zealand
Wikipedia (2006). Che Fu. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Che_Fu