Pharaoh Swami on the Māori prophet Rua Kenana

Music

Last week NZ celebrated Waitangi Day and the Prime Minister attended — a woman who even attended at all  made it a humbling event in terms of indigenous relations in NZ.  It is exciting, breaking new barriers, she also became the first female Prime Minister to speak at the whare rānanga on the porch of the upper marae. Still, one day to recognize indigenous people in their land is a strange concept when you are an indigenous person, it’s isolating and confusing and more so…hurtful. As part of his ‘Swami Sunday’s’ Single release campaign Pharaoh Swami, a New Zealand based artist of Ethiopian descent, added a new twist to the contemporary rap music scene in New Zealand by sampling a song called ‘Rua Kenana’ which was introduced to him by his close friends, a pair who are cousins from a Māori tribe called Tuhoe. It was the similarities he could draw between his own cultural identity and theirs that encouraged him to make this song.

 

Rua Tapunui Kenana (1869–1937) was a Māori prophet, faith healer and land rights activist. He called himself Te Mihaia Hou, the New Messiah, and claimed to be Te Kooti Arikirangi’s sucessor Hepetipa who would reclaim Tūhoe land that had been lost to pakeha / European ownership.

Pharaoh Swami says:  “I’m a soldier fighting in the war of love and hate and I won’t fight it the white man’s way. Never do I mean skin tone. The white man as in the western world. The capitalist consumerism-orientated, suit wearing ‘me’ mentality that tells us what to think rather than how to think.” 

 New Zealand is a country where the Native Schools Act in 1867 striped indigenous Māori of their language and affected a generation still living today. Friends and family of Māori descent invite you into their homes and it’s a sobering reality to learn this is not a generation from Jesus times they’re trying to show you in a book, this is your mate’s mum cooking you dinner, explaining that when she was little, if she spoke her natural language, she’d be beaten by authoritative members of society, like teachers. It’s a strange conversation because she’s not tryna scare you, she’s simply opening her home and heart to this random human her child brought home. She’s just  speaking their truth, gently with a smile making you tea — it’s a reality that is frightening, humbling and empowering all at once.

What Pharoah Swami has done with his song is highlight an affinity foreigners living in New Zealand have with Māori people and their land.  People from places like Africa and Asia (all over the world really) find an undeniably strong connection with the whenua…or land, and  it is one that’s hard to comprehend …but even harder to ignore:

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The prophet Rua Kenana

DS: What were you up to at the time you decided to make your song Rua Kenana?

PS: It’s my first beat I’ve ever made by myself. Recorded myself and mixed it myself with final mixing touches done by Mak Swami and mastering by Munashe from AmmoNation.


DS: What were you up to at the time you made Rua Kenana?

PS: I’ve been going through a lot emotionally and spiritually over the past years in search of my identity as a person and as an artist so I was sitting there sleep deprived and felt so emotional so I spent a whole night and morning till the sunrise making it. My childhood friends David and Patrick Pene who are cousins are Tuhoe. And I was always educated on their history and culture which I diligently digested. They would always sing Rua Kenana and the melodies, harmonies and meaning always moved my soul in a way that I can’t really word. “Rua Kenana was a prophet from the Uruwera. He told his people not to go to war and let the white man fight the white man’s war.” He told them not to sign the treaty as he prophesied it would be the demolition of their culture and heritage.

 

Therefore the Tuhoe lands are uncolonised and hold such an eerie ambiance in the air hence the name “Children of the Mist”. I wasn’t really thinking anything about Waitangi as I’ve never acknowledged, celebrated nor respected the holiday because it’s misguided and misinformed. The Māori were deceived with the language barrier and through gentrification and systematic oppression it turned a people of mana who treated matariki (children) as tapu (sacred) and their wahine (women) as the nurturing goddesses they were. Yes there may have been savagery and war between them but name a race or era that didn’t… I’ll wait.


So in a day and age where our Māori and Pacific Island brothers and sisters are disregarded and labelled as delinquent and troublesome I couldn’t help but relate as my history as an African pharaoh paints an identical picture. So I decided to do what I always do and project my emotions and energy artistically to transcend my vibrations in to a resonant frequency that others could enjoy or heal from.  I created a song that feels like trials and tribulations. Heartbreak and injustice. Yet by also simultaneously encompassing the feeling of pride and self-love and the feeling of solving the predominant issue of identity crisis and depression. That feeling of light at the end of it all when you’ve climbed and fallen and gotten back up a million times and walked and triumphed to the apex of a mental, spiritual and emotional mountain. That moment the sun is rising and the light surfaces in the horizon and you feel the sun on your chest and face and breathe the cold air with eyes closed and thoughts absent…No intellect or analysis of the valley below. Just feels. Immense feels that can’t be quantified or explained.

At the death of my ego and expense of my insignificant sense of accomplishment, I can’t take credit for the song or any song I have ever made or will make cos it wasn’t me. It never is. It’s God working through me. Not the God depicted by humans who want control and power. My God, the God that my father and mother believed in and taught me of presents itself as a gender-less colorless ball of infinite unconditional love and forgiveness and light that starts with ego death and non-individualistic concerns. That’s the only difference in my music now I give it all to him all the glory and all the praise. Cos am I the artist who is responsible for the art or am I the paintbrush which is used as an instrument to heal or teach or stimulate people? I close my mind and open my heart when I create and just feel bruh and love blesses me with what love feels is right at the time. That’s what Rua Kenana represents for me. Broken natives paying the price for the greed of others yet not having the self-belief and empowering effect of identity and purpose which starts with knowing your unbiased history and language.

DS: How do you hope people will receive it?

PS: In all honesty I’m bipolar with this topic cos one side of me isn’t concerned about reception and thought as I don’t care what people think of me or my art I’m more concerned with how I make people feel. People will say “Oh you can’t understand the language or it’s so heavily layered with melodies and harmonies including me singing Bon Ivers “Woods” in the background during the Pōkarekare Ana, section of the song so some might say it’s overstimulating and can’t hear the words etc etc but that’s my point. Forget what you think and try gauge what you feel. Play it on speakers. Drown in it eyes closed and allow yourself to submit to what music really feels like.

I’m a soldier fighting in the war of love and hate and I won’t fight it the white man’s way. Never do I mean skin tone. The white man as in the western world. The capitalist consumerism-orientated, suit wearing ‘me’ mentality that tells us what to think rather than how to think. Well allow us artists to help you learn how to feel and never what to feel. Cos feelings matter bro.

 

 

 

Speaking Western Heights with Blaze The Emperor at Mercury Plaza

Music

This month Hamilton based artist Blaze the Emperor will play his third headline show in Darmstadt, Germany accompanied with a live jazz band on February 23rd.

For this podcast with Ryz Fm and The Plug we meet at Mercury Plaza for noodles and and to discuss the release of his project Western Heights available now on Apple Music, Spotify, Tidal and GooglePlay.

He explains what it means to be a ‘Father Figure’ in New Zealand’s hip hop scene, ‘fathering sonics’ and generating a culture that’s been in need of good local representation for a long time now.

We also discuss how he sees a sure possibility to take his brodies in music with him the next time he tours overseas. “What’s next is I’m taking this international, I’m creating a scene in different countries and I want to be able to go there, perform, get paid for my performance and then also bring my brodies and my brothers to that spot so then more people can see that there is a lot more talent coming out of our scene and our collective.”

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“Stay away from the norm that’s basically what I’m trying to portray with this…I think people just want people to be themselves at the end of the day, there is a genre and a time for everything …you find the most conscious rapper in the car yelling ’21, 21′ out the window but they can’t do that in their music because they feel boxed in by their listeners or by the industry so when you do create and express outside of that, the listener then becomes comfortable with themselves.”

Listen to his interview with Ryz and The Plug HERE.

Check out his music video ‘Dreamz’ shot Vlog style by director Connor Pritchard below:

Check out a live feature track called LD2NZ with London based artist Koder at Neck Of the Woods, Auckland:

NEW: Villette releases Drip Crimson mixtape

Music

2017 has taught singer, songwriter, producer Villette that those working with you have to put as much effort into your product as you do, otherwise, they have to go.  To-the-point. Timely. Strong. This year the 22-year-old Samoan Chinese talent from South Auckland has been working super hard at her music — which can be an unforgiving environment — so she has to sometimes make tough calls to protect her brand.  She’s learned the hard way she can’t tolerate those that can’t give 100 percent and more.

Key moments include a feature on the smash web-series Baby Mama’s Club, releasing her mixtape and touring Drip Crimson alongside a new lingerie series — of which the first set is called ‘If You Go’ — “That song is about feeling powerful, you’ve just broken up with someone or you think someone’s going to leave or you don’t know what’s happening in the relationship.”

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“I feel empowered in that song when I’m saying fuck whose in your phone, fuck that other girl, I feel empowered when I say that so I called it If You Go because that’s one of the most powerful songs on the mixtape. She says the plan is to release lingerie with every project she does.

“This mixtape is pretty heavy and the new EP that’s coming out in January is going to be more about how I feel right now. It’s going to be more upbeat, more definitive more melody lead RnB”

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Villette says, “This mixtape’s been going on for about 11-months but I’ve been working on new music during that time.” Drip Crimson is available on SPOTIFY and  most platforms.

How have you found working at the industry level cause I remember when you played at the Greenroom and were booked via Facebook messenger..

[Laughs] The good old days when things were simple man, I miss that, nah I still get booked for some shit via Facebook, low key I still do it, I’m not ashamed of it.

And there’s a lot of love in those shows.. 

That’s where my people are like that’s just where I can really see how people feel and it’s different when you get asked to play a show through a booking agent cause you don’t know if it’s completely genuine or not or if it’s for marketing purposes and stuff like that so there’s a question of,  if you want to do it or not, if it’s genuine, and then you have to think about your integrity as an artist; whether you should be playing that kind of gig or if its solely for the money and that’s where I’m at at the moment but I’m lucky to have booking agents who are my friends as well, so they know my values as an artists and they know where I stand.

… I think there’s a misconception because I still don’t consider myself in the ‘industry level’ yet, I still see myself as, in the beginning phases, for me I feel very early in my career and I feel like I’ve gone through a lot of shit with industry stuff but I’m learning on a personal level as an artists how to handle that because that’s going to define my success, how I handle these little challenges now, is how I’m going to come out the other end.

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..Lots of people tell you what you should do and how you should handle stuff, but nothing prepares for you when someone offers you something amazing and it’s too good to be true and you take it and it was too good to be true and your like [lols] ‘Ahh fuck I should have listened’.

Whenever an artist gets involved with this it’s because you are that kind of person, you wanna take risks obviously for pursuing being an artist in such an over saturated market right now so..It’s just one of those things that comes with the territory.. but I enjoy it now and I’ve learned to handle it, and I’m still working on how I react to it on a personal level, emotionally react to it.

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So you have to have a thick skin?

Have to. Like I’ve got followers, I’m not afraid to admit that I have fans and stuff like that but I also have my fair amount of haters and …there’s just ..always going to be shit that just comes with the territory, for one person that loves you there might be two who don’t like you, and I get hate messages on Instagram, I have people comment shit that I have to delete it’s really intense and that also comes with being a woman in the industry like people just always critique you on everything and then at the industry level  you’ve got 50-year-old white men telling you what’s relevant and it’s like you don’t know what the fucks relevant, you really don’t.

..When you’re working in the studio you really have to have a thick skin because you have to trust your gut instinct, and that you know what sounds hot and that you know what sounds like you, when you’re trying to put your flavour into something, you have to be really strong and stand your ground and that can make you lose friends, I’ve learned that even recently I’ve lost friends over it.

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Women, I think you’re right I think we do have to yank our personalities out in order to stand there and really deliver a solid performance..

I think that also comes from knowing your self-worth, on a personal level, at the end of the day I’m human, I’ll always doubt myself and always not know if I’m going to be insecure and that sort of stuff but when it comes to business I really separate it and just think ‘no this is my full-time job’ and treat it like that… I really expect great things from the people around me and lately in the last month I’ve just narrowed down my team and thought about like, one strike and you’re out, that’s it that’s all I can deal with. ..And that comes down to knowing your self-worth and knowing that how you handle your business is how other people should handle it [laughs] it’s simple,  but it’s taken me so long to realise that.

How do you take a loss? 

Oh man it’s hard, maybe at the beginning of this year I would have cried and been real fucking upset; lashed out at everyone around me, lashed out at my mum, even though she has nothing to do with it.. but it’s because it’s just like.. I struggle to talk about my emotions unless it’s in song so I just am that way …I’m going to fuck around and piss people off ..I still am that way… am still going to fuck around and piss people off but now I handle it better and I see it as: I fucking love losing now, failing is great to me. I’m kind of like, ‘Come the fuck on!’ because I’m in my twenties now I’m 22 and this is the time to try shit and fail at shit and know what you’re good at.

 

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And Hamilton, you grew up there, was any of your creativity made there? 

[There were] a lot of experiences. I did most of my growing up in Hamilton the pivotal moments in me teens were all there, my first boyfriend was there, my first everything was there lets just say that…a lot of my lasts were there as well cause when I moved here I was like I can’t do this shit anymore, I met a rapper over there as well and that was the first time I went in the studio, properly recorded, and that’s the first time I realised it wasn’t as easy as it looked, but I thank him for that experience because it made me realise that I wanted to work hard.

Catch more of this interview on Ryz FM. 

 

 

Review: Cranes In The Sky Drips Good Juice For Soul

Culture, Music

The video for Solange’s new single ‘Cranes in The Sky’ was directed by Solange and her husband Alan Ferguson, with the aid of photographer Carlota Guerrero whose style permeates the wave of film inspiration this film student needed, and found while watching.

Their shots are in the same vein of movement, style, creativity and femininity that’s been filling up my black book all year, it’s exiting to see! There are about 30 different frames used to compile the complete song; working like a sultry montage that translates as sweet with the piano keys in the track; and strong with the power of Solange’s voice — it all just pushes her power as a major contributor to contemporary pop culture further and harder.

The unapologetic presence of her work ethic is inspiring as shown in the making-of teaser below. I like that she is a solid, tall looking vessel of a woman; comfortable, confident and matter of fact in her approach – which is kind of an oxymoron because her approach feels effortless and nothing like she’s working at all. But, I’d imagine this is the craft of being a pop star; like she humbly knows it’s good, all of it. Both her release videos,Don’t Touch My Hair and Cranes In The Skyare a pleasure and inspiration to see because they both show Solange boldly owning her space, watch her embody a freedom dance with producer, Sampha HERE.

I like the sense of organic, non-constructed beauty in the project, contrasted with the gentle pastel pallet; mixed with a sense that there is strength in showing vulnerability. I like the bold femininity and the sensitive subjects addressed with no sorry or fucks given about how a hater might feel about it. A Seat At The Table features the track ‘F.U.B.U’ (for us by us), it pays tribute to the classic smoker film, How High and sweetly coos, “All my niggas in the whole wide world, play this song and sing it on your terms, for us, this shit is for us”..  I love this side of Solange, she’s real, too real.

Master P also narrates the album with no prompts or hints regarding his own public status, like he and Solange are two homies who appreciate a common understanding; like when he gets deep on a level that addresses how black people don’t get rehab, “We have to rehab ourselves”, he says.

The production features credits from Sampha, Raphael Sadiq and others. The making of video shows Solange freestyling and building her songs over a span of three years. In another interview she said she wanted to make an ode to Mary Jane with a feminine touch, something she has done as a woman, rather than a girl – it promises a budding creative future for females still slugging away in a predominantly male saturated arena.

Solange basically honed in on everything that matters to her demographic with this release and promoted her community with subtle visual elements representing friendship, camaraderie, social consciousness and a hunger for minds to be more open in the public sphere. It is an album that drips a rich, concentrated good-juice by letting itself into the minds of the socially conscious and settling into the hearts of those craving political change and a more heart-felt approach to issues being faced globally.

Solange has said the album is a “confessional autobiography and meditation on being black in America” and that “she doesn’t believe that protest is just marching in the street but that protest can be creation.”

It is an album for those who can recognise there is a bubbling for positive change happening beyond newsfeeds, worldwide; under little rocks in communities all over, there is proof in projects and work like this that artists, musicians, clothing designers, web designers and more are crying out for more inclusiveness, less racism and less bigotry in the world; this is for people looking forward to a time when the mainstream can experience real culture without it needing to be appropriated first; it is an album for those who know that if these kinds of projects keep making small waves only — the opposite to what their creators intended — then there may just be a war instead of a revolution.