Rona Claire Wignall, aka rapper Arcee (pronounced Ar-see), is a complete and utter dynamo. “I can’t just have one alleyway of performance,” she says.
Appropriately, talking to her is a performance all in itself, the raps of other musicians rolling off her tongue like they were born to her, hands constantly probing the air to better emphasise her point. With anyone else, it would be fidgeting – with Arcee it’s just punctuation. She has been on the rise in the Dunedin musical scene since moving south to undertake a Bachelor of Music in contemporary vocal performance at Otago. She speaks highly of the influence that the ‘traditional environment there has had on her less than traditional musical style.
“People put down rappers because they see it as a non-skill,” she muses, “but you need the knowledge, the techniques.”
Prior to her current study she was self-taught, both vocally and on the piano. Inspiration comes from many sources – her first connection to musical performance was through an uncle who gave her a guitar at a young age. She soon moved on to playing the family’s piano, where she found her passion and started shaping it. A skilled classical pianist aunt was also influential on her musical ambitions, and she rattles off a list of names over the course of our interview, with D-12, Ray Charles, Elton John, Lupe Fiasco and Immortal Technique among those mentioned.
To Arcee, it is all about the lyrics. She loved poetry in her younger years – and still does.
“It’s storytelling. This is what happened to me, here’s the discussion.”
Getting on stage is still a thrill – she muses that it’s your chance to engage with the audience for 10 minutes, to make your mark on them. Back to the alleyway idea – an appropriate deviation from ‘avenues’ for a hip hop musician. Arcee is attached to the varied performance opportunities that her personal style allows. Most of her performances are in intimate venues, just piano and her own voice rapping along with it – contrasted heavily by the fully realised and produced recorded versions.
She has teamed up with producer Daz (as heard on Flava FM), and between Arcee’s lyrics and chords, and Daz’s layering and honing of the sound, the final effect is polished and charged. Their combined efforts have resulted in a six-track digital EP, ‘The Cool Zone, due for release in June. This will be followed up by further release gigs (“more like parties, really,” she amends) in Wellington and her current home of Dunedin.