At the 2016 Taite Music Prize Awards held in April Upper Hutt Posse were announced as recipients of this year’s Classic Record award for their crucial 1988 12” single E Tū. Released on Wellington indie label Jayrem, E Tū has been hailed as Aotearoa’s first rap record, and remains as culturally relevant today as it was near on 30 years ago. E Tū was embraced by the burgeoning local rap community for its rhyming in both Te Reo and English, as well as for being informed by Māori history.
The well-deserved award was accepted by UHP founding member Te Kupu, aka D Word, aka Dean Hapeta. As he commented for the media release, “It’s great for a conscious song of resistance to be respected in this way, and although it already has a firm place in the hip hop musical history of Aotearoa, this award is somewhat unexpected and therefore a little extra pleasing.”
*Left to right: Acid Dread, D Word (aka Te Kupu), DLT, Time Sulusi Tuautu, Murray Cammick, Sydney Bell, Teremoana Rapley, M.C. Wiya.
I don’t remember it so well, but it’s backstage at Auckland Town Hall in 1990 at the Redhead Kingpin gig where we played as a support act. Looks like it was taken following our performance. Darryl Ward took the photo and that’s Murray Cammick sitting cross-legged in the middle, with Time Sulusi Tuautu, our neighbour from Mount St, (and at the time doorman at Cause Celebre and The Box) sitting behind him. Over his left shoulder is Sydney Bell, a lighting and stage music man. The UHP members are from left Acid Dread, D Word, DLT, Teremoana, and M.C. Wiya – the full line up at that time.
I’ve commented previously that being called ‘nigger’ by a white bikey when aged eight or nine awoke me to skin colour consciousness. But also around that age I’d begun viewing the world through the six o’clock evening news and was figuring out that there was a lot wrong and that racism was a major factor. I listened to the radio almost every night then, recording songs and dreaming of being a singer, on stage.
I was also in Upper Hutt Boys Choir and learning violin around that time – two things I didn’t feel were cool. Aside from swimming at Māoribank River, playing sports, skateboarding and then breaking I thought a lot about worldly things and by age 10 or 11 my mother was sending me from the lounge room because of my vocal protestations of the media’s biased reporting of events.
Forefront in my mind were the injustices Palestinians and Irish faced, and then Māori issues became a concern, but I didn’t see any point in non-violent protest and hence found no place for myself within Māori protest, remaining on the periphery in some kind of self-imposed exile wherein I dwelt, quite content shunning both Eurocentric brutality and Māori acquiescence.
That changed in later teen years as I came to recognise myself as a Māori fighting against injustice. Music and social consciousness were passions from a young age and I pursued and realised my childhood dream of being a musician into adulthood.
Out of a wider group of 12 or 13 friends, who in smaller groupings had begun to jam intermittently at ‘The Pad’, Māoribank River and other places, it was Blue Dread (guitar, vocals), M.C. Wiya (bass), DLT (drums) and myself on keyboards and vocals who decided to get serious and form a group. We played reggae because we were able to play it on instruments, as opposed to performing and creating rap and electro music, which required drum machines and sequencers that we didn’t have. But we soon got access to drum machines and started programming beats.
Shortly after that George Hubbard became our manager and beat programmer, and with him came the Roland TR808 and 909, the same drum machines utilised by the likes of Afrika Bambaataa and Schoolly D. Teremoana Rapley and M.C. Beware, and then Acid Dread had joined the group by the end of 1988, and this was the makeup of the group.
The inclusion of Teremoana and Acid Dread was my vision because I wanted singers in the group and at that time I wasn’t confident enough to sing on stage. It broadened our musical scope and made us unlike any other musical group. Since then, until today, there’s been a number of differing lineups with myself always at the helm – bringing in musicians and vocalists required for the songs, composed by primarily myself.
Our first gig was a shambles, a disaster, we didn’t get through one complete song as two of us were too drunk to play – but from that moment, or perhaps because of that moment I knew that we’d go on to big things. Which came with the release of ‘E Tū’. Because there were only two television channels at that time and no world-wide-web, the likelihood of being seen was far greater than today. So when the music video screened on Radio With Pictures we became nationally recognised overnight.
What was the creative process of writing the song E Tū, researching the history that informed the lyrics, and how was it UHP hooked up with Jayrem Records?
By 1987 when I wrote the lyrics I realised fully that Māori were denigrated by the media, and also by everyday people, despite our many valiant struggles for land and dignity against a racist and violent colonial intruder. I had to combat such widespread insulting behaviour, and also particularly the colonised braindead conditioning of a great many Māori who blamed themselves for the ills they and many Māori people suffer.
I’d heard James Brown sing Say It Loud – I’m Black And I’m Proud and reasoned that we needed a similar type of message, and that celebrating Māori leaders who had fought violently against colonial rule would be potent. I’d read James Belich’s New Zealand Wars and other books, and had been employed at the Justice Department working on a special project seeking Māori perspectives on the department.
So I travelled to marae throughout the country and met with various Māori, as a research assistant assisting Moana Jackson, who was heading the project. It strengthened my thinking that Māori unity and resistance against white people’s bigotry was necessary. And while conscious reggae groups such as Aotearoa and Dread Beat & Blood sang songs of upliftment for Maori people there was nothing like E Tū, there was no conscious rap. We knew that those two groups, and others had released records through Jayrem Records, so that was obviously the place to go now we had secured a QEII Arts Council / Just Juice New Recording Artists Grant. Our Manager and I went out to Petone and met with Jim Moss, securing a record deal for E Tū. Obviously he thought what we were doing was worthwhile.
The reaction was both negative and positive. A lot of the negativity had to do with the fact that the music didn’t sound like the U.S. rap music of the day, which in any case wasn’t what I’d set out to do. Neither the music industry, nor the general public were quite prepared to hear young Māori espousing socio-political content in a music genre thought by most to be gimmicky, and something that would disappear in a few years. It wasn’t surprising when Double J and Twice the T reached #2 in the charts with She’s A Mod/Mod Rap in 1989, nor when they won the award for Most Promising Group at the national music awards – the same award that we had been nominated for.
But that didn’t bother us, the fourth verse of E Tū clarifies our purpose and intent:
“Well I always put my mind to the rhyme / Don’t wear no gold chains ‘cause we ain’t that kind / Don’t neva rap and say I think I’m cool / Just preach the truth with us that’s a rule / Yeah, rising inflation to me is a crime / And sport is politics so don’t mess with my mind / They falsely own our land so they really don’t / We’ve been ripped off man so shut up I won’t.”
The positivity was generally from people around us at the time congratulating us on getting out the record and music video – which was a feat back then, unlike today. There were also favourable reviews, which are always nice to read, and it was gratifying to know the song had been heard by many people in this country.
The primary purpose of releasing a song to strengthen Māori resolve to fight for our land, and to fight for justice was achieved, and although the song focuses specifically on Māori self-pride and self-determination through particular warrior leaders – the theme of resisting against oppression is a universal theme wherein people of all ethnicities can link.
We wanted to advance our music careers and that of UHP. For us the way to do that was to relocate to Auckland and sign with an Auckland record company or label. Our manager had found out that Murray was starting a label so that was where we went.
The line up for the album was D Word, M.C. Beware, DLT, M.C. Wiya, Teremoana and Acid Dread. We weren’t functioning as a live reggae band playing instruments at that stage because it proved too difficult with the guitarist and bass player living in Wellington. Most of the songs came into creation through myself (mainly) writing lyrics to beats that either George Hubbard or myself programmed. The other group members brought creativity through either the lyrics they wrote or their vocal and musical performances.
Earlier in 1987 and aside from composing and performing as a live reggae group, George and I had formed a creative workflow consisting of him coming up with a bass line and beat on the Roland TR909 or TR808 and TR303, and myself taking the music home on a cassette tape to compose lyrics to. Then we’d arrange the song in a typical verse chorus structure.
Once in Auckland I programmed music on Simon Lynch’s equipment utilising the MC500. The step up from Writhe Recording Studios in Wellington to Mandrill Studio’s 24-tracks in Auckland was welcome and we felt to be moving professionally in the right direction.
The first gigs outside of Wellington were student Orientation gigs, and then The Flying Youth Tour which took us to a few Marae/Māori community venues, and also support gigs for international touring artists UB40 and Public Enemy. We didn’t actually complete a national tour until 1995 for ‘Movement In Demand’.
The first important gig was supporting UB40 at Wellington Town Hall in 1988, which I felt was a test – to see if we ‘had what it takes’ – and it was exhilarating to be in front of a large audience playing both our reggae and rap songs. There was no turning back after that. I remember playing Dunedin and Christchurch Orientation gigs and being happily surprised by the enthusiasm of the audience, and of course we were well pleased when a bootleg recording from a live gig of Hardcore Hip Hop reached #1 on UFM’s listener voted Top 10 in March of 1988. This country’s first rap song to reach #1 I tell people nowadays.
Audience reactions I remember dearly were of St Stevens Māori boarding school students raising their fists as a symbol of struggle, and how that contrasted with audiences at Public Enemy gigs unwilling to put fists in the air for us. Perhaps our activism was too close to home. The 10-date tour of Sydney played differing type gigs and venues, performing alongside internationals The Bhundu Boys and Macka B, and Mad Professor, but the stand out gig for me was playing in Redfern to the local native community. I didn’t notice any great difference between audiences there and here.
The band members that had signed with Southside were no longer members of UHP. Negative publicity and controversy had impacted negatively on sales. I was spending time in the USA and Southside Records seemed to be more focused on the newly formed Wildside part of the label, so we just parted ways. It wasn’t an issue, and importantly it gave impetus to the formation of Kia Kaha Productions Ltd founded in 1993. It was a big step in the right direction.
In 1990 Rasul Muhammad, a son of the founder of the Nation of Islam Elijah Muhammad visited Aotearoa to make links with Māori people involved in struggle and liberation. His trip followed a visit a few years earlier by Akbar Abdul Muhammad their international representative. I’d been impressed by, and a supporter of the N.O.I. ever since reading The Autobiography Of Malcolm X, despite their being implicated in his assassination. Being asked by Rasul backstage at the Gluepot following a performance if we would come to Detroit to hear Minister Louis Farrakhan speak, and share our music with the people, and that ‘the people need to hear you’ was mind-blowing! He demanded an immediate response so what could I say but ‘Yes, we’ll come’, having at that moment no idea how we would raise the necessary funds.
But we did and four of us from the five-piece that UHP was at that time travelled to Detroit and then New York, and it was wonderful to be there as guests of the Nation Of Islam. My conviction that white people had indeed created a discriminatory and unfair society in both the USA and in Aotearoa was reinforced, and to experience first-hand expressions of solidarity was most heartening. I was strengthened irrevocably.
In 1992 myself and Rongotai Lomas as co-directors completed Solidarity, a 23-minute music-documentary of our 1990 trip to Detroit and NYC. It screened on Marae on TV One. At that time I decided to return to Detroit and NYC in 2000 to make another documentary, or actually a ‘rapumentary’. To see what had changed, what hadn’t, and to continue the dialogue established in Solidarity.
By 2000 I’d become proficient at editing video, and had built a home music studio wherein I was capable of producing also broadcast quality video. I owned a 3CCD digital camera so I boarded a flight, and although I also travelled to Canada and England on this first trip I wasn’t aware at all that it was the beginnings of an 11-year journey. Shooting video focused on arts and activism amongst native and marginalised people in 22 countries, with three key talking points – Racism, Police Brutality and Colonialism. It was exciting and fun, and highly importantly for my creative spirit – I was doing something that no one else had done. In 2000 video cameras weren’t in everyone’s hands so I was invigorated to be on the cutting edge globally.
Many people haven’t seen it because it’s in six parts – it’s almost nine hours long, and I haven’t yet uploaded it to YouTube. But separate parts have screened on Māori Television and at film festivals including Sundance Film Festival in 2004 and Māori Land Film Festival this year, 2016. Also, there hasn’t been a big publicity push yet, because that should happen when I complete the semi-autobiographical book I’m writing that revolves around its making. I’ve been writing on and off for a few years now and the book will also contain a lot of details about Upper Hutt Posse of course.
Racist white people and their colonised flunkies run things all around the world and that needs to stop. Aotearoa is infected with a white supremacist disorder that obstructs the creation of a fair and just multi-cultural society.
It’s strengthened my Māori language skills (the reason I went there) and enabled me to compose one, and co-compose four full-length te reo Māori albums.
In a Radio NZ interview you said to Manu Tioriori: “I think in this music industry in this country, once you come out as an activist or radical, and your music is hard core, you are known as that.” Have there been times when you’ve felt isolated? What has helped you sustain your motivation in your own belief over the years?
I’ve never felt isolated because my roots are here, all around and within, my ancestors are here. Such a sense of belonging transcends the music industry or any other construct that could be devised by humans, so I feel no need for props from a corrupt music industry, NZOA music grants, or large audiences to feel proper. Creating and performing music and video of good conscience is a calling – I’m compelled to create and I can’t say exactly from where such motivation emanates – but I’m grateful for it and continue to be inspired to create music and video that can make a change for the better.
Too many, can’t just mention some so please let me say that it’s been great to have worked with so many people who’ve come and journeyed for a minute or for a few years with UHP. It was a joy, necessary, and Upper Hutt Posse made it happen. It’s been a privilege to have helped some people along the way, and also some kind of blessing to have created music with other talented musicians.
Syd Jackson, Malcolm X, Te Rauparaha, Hone Heke, Bob Marley, Gil Scott-Heron, Michael Jackson, Public Enemy, Louis Farrakhan, Moana Jackson, Linton Kwesi Johnson, my father Umatapu Hapeta.
Be focused, be determined, kia kaha!
Ghetto People Song – Everton Blender; Attack Of The Name Game – Stacy Lattisaw; Wake Up Everybody – Harold Melvin & The Bluenotes; Blame It On The Boogie – The Jacksons; Pose Off – Red Fox & Screeechie Dan.
The autobiography of Malcolm X, Seize The Time.
I can’t actually recall ever getting any good advice.
Well pleased, grateful and respected.
Karanga, rangatahi, whakarongo, whakarongo
We’re ngā tamatoa, so we must light te ahi
Don’t get led astray by Babylon, kia mau ki to māori
There’s a lot of people who think they’re tough today
But chiefs like Te Rauparaha woulda blown dem away
Cher, Hone Heke he expressed his disgust
By cutting down the flagpole, huh
Pākeha killed Māori inna Matawhero
So Te Kooti exacted it in a slaughter
Yes, the Māori battalion inna world war two
Staunch on the battlefield dem had many clues
Like Moana Ngarimu on hill 209
Victoria cross so true so strong
Yes the Māori was a fierce warrior
Strike fear in the hearts of the Babylon soldier
Yeah it’s true, yeah it’s true, I’m talking to you
Kia kaha, kia kaha two one two two
E Tū / Stand Proud / Kia Kaha / Say It Loud
The man who tried to kill him was Von Tempsky
But he became a victim of his own folly
‘Cause Tītokowaru him too smart you see
Guerrilla warfare, huh, Māori
The British raided a Pā they thought It’d be a victory
But Kawiti fooled the enemy
The British raided the Pā yeah but they got shot down
‘Cause Kawiti had a plan and it was sound, break down
Te Rangihaeata believes in holding land
Against the foe, yo, the British man
To him lands essential to the mana of the chief
And in the Hutt there were some hardcore feats
In 1846 in the Hutt Valley I said
Fighting broke out between the British and the Māori
And more than one settler on disputed land
Was killed when the Māori fought the British Plan
‘Cause white rule and injustice go hand in hand
So against that is where we stand
Don’t forget those who’ve fought before
Our struggle continues more and more
Yeah it’s a struggle, it’s a struggle
The systems got us in a muddle
So strive to get outta this puddle
Well I always put my mind to the rhyme
Don’t wear no gold chains ‘cause we ain’t that kind
Don’t neva rap and say I think I’m cool
Just preach the truth with us that’s a rule
Yeah, rising inflation to me is a crime
And sport is politics so don’t mess with my mind
They falsely own our land so they really don’t
We’ve been ripped off man so shut up I won’t
You gotta learn the history to know where ya truly are
Learn it somehow this ignorance has gone too far
Have self determination in what ya gonna do
Kia kaha, kia mau ki to māori
Don’t let no-one stand on you
1988 – E Tū (debut 12” single release)
1989 – ‘Against the Flow’
1995 – ‘Movement in Demand’
2000 – ‘Mā te Wā’
2002 – Te Reo Māori Remixes’
2004 – ‘Dedicated 88-91’
2005 – ‘Legacy’
2010 – ‘Tohe’
2011 – ‘Declaration of Resistance’