On 8 June 1987 Nuclear-free New Zealand became law. This collection honours the principles and people behind the policy. Prime Minister Norman Kirk put it like this: "I don't think New Zealand's a doormat. I think we've got rights — we're a small country but we've got equal rights, and we're going to assert them." In the backgrounder, journalist Tim Watkin explores the twists and turns of Aotearoa's nuclear history.
'Azania' is an impassioned anti-apartheid song written for the Auckland reggae band by law student Ross France. Led by original Herbs vocalist Toni Fonoti, it helped to establish the band’s political credentials at a time when New Zealand was split by the 1981 Springbok Tour. Azania was the name given to a post-revolutionary South Africa by the Pan African Congress. There are name checks for black African leaders Steve Biko and Nelson Mandela; and the chant “Angola! Mozambique! Zimbabwe! Azania!” was quickly incorporated into anti-tour protest marches.
Wellington’s Black Seeds serve up another dose of their brand of funky roots reggae on this, their debut single from third album Into The Dojo. Director Jason Naran’s video is based on a concept by former Black Seeds member Bret McKenzie (who cameos briefly on Kitchen Cam 1). The result re-imagines the concept of social networking, with a cast of online fans grooving to the music. The video was judged Best Roots winner at the 2006 Juice TV Awards.
Upper Hutt Posse were the first group to release a hip hop record in New Zealand, with their politically charged breakthrough 1988 single 'E Tu'. On this single from 1992, they make something of a return to their reggae roots. By now the group had expanded from the original four-piece, and included Teremoana Rapley — also part of Moana and the Moahunters — on additional vocals. The song would later appear on the soundtrack of Once Were Warriors, with Posse members Dean and Matt Hapeta (aka D-Word and MC Wiya) making cameo appearances in the film.
Herbs released this ‘no nukes’ single the same year David Lange smelt uranium, while debating nuclear weapons at the Oxford Union. The video mixes on-the-beach Pasifika dancing with shots of the band performing at Western Springs, and protests against US nuclear warships and submarines visiting Kiwi waters. DIY visual effects show the band looming over Mt Eden Prison, and nuclear explosions punctuate the laid-back reggae beat. From 1984’s Long Ago album, the song was written by then frontman Willie Hona, keyboardist Tama Lundon and Rob Van De Lisdonk.
As was often the way in the early 80s, this is a fairly basic TVNZ-produced video, filmed on a studio set to a DIY marae backdrop under red, green and yellow rasta lighting. But the band are natural born performers. There's puffer vests, Hawaiian shirts, and wristbands; and singer Willie Hona’s sleeveless leopard print top worn with bone carving necklace somehow feels just right for the Pacific reggae charms of the music. 'Long Ago' was the title track from the band's third release, which also featured their no-nukes anthem 'Nuclear Waste'.
In this video, languid Pacific Island imagery (poi, hibiscus, tamariki, breaching whales) and gorgeous reggae pop are contrasted with images of French nuclear testing. There are punchy 'no nukes' slogans and graphics, but a great performance from Herbs does the work effortlessly in this simple, well-crafted video. 'French Letter' was originally released in 1982 and began an eleven week stay on the Kiwi singles charts — despite very little radio play. It was rereleased in 1995 to protest the resumption of nuclear testing: "Let me be more specific - get out of the Pacific!"
Che Fu’s influential debut album 2b S.Pacific (1998) melded Pasifika with reggae, soul and hip hop, to create a unique musical home brew. The first single 'Scene III' went to number four on the local charts, and this follow-up (a double A-side, paired with 'Machine Talk') got to the top in October 1998. Cinematographer Duncan Cole (Born to Dance) directs the music video, which sees a pair of Fu personas (street and club?) facing cameras in a film studio, while singing about making "the planet shake". Later Che Fu adds some comedy to a breakdance battle.
The laidback pop-reggae of double platinum album On the Sun was a noughties Kiwi summer soundtrack, and this golden hour-hued affair is a video to match. A Seedy trio (Barnaby Weir, Bret McKenzie, Daniel Weetman) head on holiday to the Coromandel for a smorgasbord of baches, pohutukawa rope swings, mussels on the barbie, and cricket on the beach. There's a nod to the sponsor's product as McKenzie pulls the Holden into the Tararu Store for a Fruju pitstop: one of the future Oscar-winner's earliest paid acting gigs was in an ice-block commercial.
'Dragons and Demons' is a track from Whats' Be Happen? — the first release from the Auckland pioneers of Pacific reggae. The album had a shot of the Bastion Point protest on its cover, however the emphasis in this song — written by original vocalist Tony Fonoti — is more personal than political as it exhorts people to control mental dragons and demons. Fonoti’s devotion to Rastafarianism made him uncomfortable with the band’s growing commercial success, and led to his departure. ‘Dragons and Demons’ received a new lease of life in 2009 when it was featured in Taika Waititi’s film Boy.