Freedom to Sing – NZ Protest Songs

Standing up for your rights has long linked arms with singing for your rights. This  Spotlight collection brings together some of New Zealand’s great protest songs, with subject matter ranging from Māori pride and resistance ('Parihaka'), to the nuclear free campaign ('French Letter', 'Nuclear Waste' and 'Chains') and the environment ('I Care'), to South African rugby tours ('Don’t Go' and 'Azania'). As you exercise your 'Freedom to Sing', remember that 'There is No Depression in New Zealand'.

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Parihaka

Music Video, 1989 (Pop)

The non-violent action preached and practiced by Māori prophets Te Whiti and Tohu at Parihaka in Taranaki forms one of the most compelling episodes of New Zealand’s 19th century history, as they resisted Pākehā confiscation of their land and home. Tim Finn was inspired to write this paean to the pair after reading Dick Scott’s influential book Ask That Mountain. Band Herbs provide the accompaniment. Fane Flaws and cinematographer Alun Bollinger’s video was shot over a night at Auckland Art Gallery and takes Colin McCahon’s striking Parihaka triptych as its centrepiece.

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French Letter '95

Music Video, 1995 (Reggae)

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!"

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I Care Campaign - John Hanlon

Television, 1974 (Promotional, News/Current Affairs)

In early 1974, NZ had more than just the Commonwealth Games on its mind. Norman Kirk’s Labour government was promoting social and ecological issues and the NZBC's 24 radio stations launched a yearlong 'I Care' campaign for the protection of the environment. A contest to find a theme song was won by John Hanlon whose credentials as a conservation crooner had been established with his eco-anthem 'Damn the Dam'. The launch in Petone was presided over by conservation minister Joe Walding, an understated logo was unveiled, and Hanlon performed his winning song.

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Don't Go

Music Video, 1985 (Reggae)

In the vein of 'We are the World' and 'Do They Know It’s Christmas', 'Don’t Go' rallied NZ musicians to express their opposition to the proposed 1985 All Black tour of South Africa. Don McGlashan, Chris Knox and Rick Bryant were the front row for this one-off single: a catchy number written by McGlashan, Frank Stark and Geoff Chapple. The video — directed by Alison Maclean and shot by Stuart Dryburgh — never attempts to get in the way of the message, placing the ensemble cast in front of red, white and black backdrops (interspersed with rugby imagery).

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Azania

Music Video, 1981 (Reggae)

'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.

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Nuclear Waste

Music Video, 1985 (Reggae)

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. 

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Riot Squad

Music Video, 1981 (Rock, Soul)

This song is from New Zealand’s troubled winter of 1981. The Springbok Tour gave the term “riot squad” currency throughout the country — but the Auckland live music scene and the police were already enduring a very fraught relationship. This number from Auckland ska/soul band The Newmatics, released on the band’s Broadcast OR double 7" EP, was actually written about a 1980 police raid on XS Cafe in Airedale Street. The Keystone Cops music video is classic early 80s TVNZ Avalon and features actors Ross Jolly and Michael Wilson as two thirds of the 'blue shadow'.

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Anchor Me

Music Video, 2005 (Pop)

This all star cover of Mutton Birds classic ‘Anchor Me’ was made to mark the 20th anniversary of the sinking of Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warrior. After Hinewehi Mohi’s haunting introduction, singers including Anika Moa, Kirsten Morrell (Goldenhorse) Che Fu, and Milan Borich (Pluto) walk towards the camera across a washed out landscape. Nuclear blasts, pollution and Greenpeace vessels can all be seen, while doves pull rainbows across the screen.

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Chains

Music Video, 1996 (Hip Hop)

Amidst a tale of despair in the city, a staunch 'no nukes' message is delivered with aplomb by Che Fu in this performance-based promo for his collaboration with hip hop legend DLT. "Come test me like a bomb straight from Murda-roa / How comes I got cyclops fish in my water / A Nation of Pacific lambs to the slaughter / Three eyes for my son and an extra foot for my daughter". Acclaimed music video director Kerry Brown uses bold urban Pacific imagery to accompany this chart-topping track with its deceptively catchy chorus: "Living in the city ain't so bad ..."

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Culture?

Music Video, 1980 (Punk, Pop, Rock)

In the tradition of novelty songs, ‘Culture?’ was catchy to the point of contagion. Fuelled by carnival keyboards, it was The Knobz response to Prime Minister Rob Muldoon’s refusal to lift a 40% sales tax on recorded music (originally instituted by Labour in 1975), and Muldoon's typically blunt verdict on the cultural merits of pop music (“horrible”). The giddy, hyperactive video comes complete with Muldoon impersonator (Danny Faye), and casts the band as the song’s 'Beehive Boys'. In the backgrounder, Mike Alexander writes about his time as the band's manager.

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There is No Depression in New Zealand

Music Video, 1981 (Pop, Alternative)

This classic alternative national anthem by Auckland post-punk trio Blam Blam Blam became a theme song for New Zealand’s long, troubled winter of 1981 as the country was wracked by social and political division and the Springbok Tour. Poet and playwright Richard von Sturmer wrote the lyrics while the music was by Blams member Don McGlashan. The video features a band performance shot on the roof of TVNZ’s Shortland Street studios and shows a curious penchant for celebrity lawn mowing. The performing Marmite and Vegemite jars are, however, the real deal.

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Freedom to Sing

Music Video, 2011 (Dub, Soul)

In April 2011, singer Tiki Taane was handcuffed, arrested and spent a night in the cells after performing a number by American rappers NWA as police visited his performance at Tauranga’s Illuminati club. The charges were later dropped and Taane remained resolutely unapologetic. This defiant song, recorded a month later at the same venue, is his musical response to the ordeal. Armed only with an acoustic guitar — the protest singer’s weapon of choice — he asserts his refusal to be silenced while firing a broadside at police, the media and politicians.