After years working in media and music, it’s rather unbelievable that Aroha Harawira is only just about to release her first batch of original songs. Past jobs include Radio Active, Radio NZ, 95bFM, Juice TV, George FM, Serato and more recently Ableton, all the while DJing up a storm at clubs and festivals here and across the ditch. Released in early December 2020 her EP ‘No More Jenga’ seems to be a culmination of living a life surrounded by sound. We asked her to talk us through the title track of the release, No More Jenga.
When the Covid-19 pandemic was first taking hold around the world, I read a news article where the headline was “No More Jenga, No More Amen”, and it really captured my imagination. I knew that was going to be the name of my debut song, only now I needed to form a track to bear that name!
I knew I wanted to make something quite percussive, bass-heavy and atmospheric, so once I’d laid down the basic drum pattern I recorded myself saying the headline, which I then looped and experimented with, running it through different effects to give it a bit of an otherworldly mysterious feel. There are actually two different tracks of these vocals, one where the words aren’t decipherable and add texture, and I feel like they’ve become the constant in what is quite an evolving journey of a song.
No More Jenga is about rules and restrictions, authorities making and changing rules and everybody’s uncertainty surrounding that. It’s also about trying to hold together your mental health during challenging times. Jenga blocks seem very symbolic to me here, like a balancing act where if someone pokes the wrong brick, it can all come tumbling down. My mental health suffered this year, especially being in Melbourne which turned out to be the centre of one of the world’s longest lockdowns, so I’m grateful that I could use the isolation to focus on being creative.
I wanted to tie in the ‘no more amen’ element of the headline into the song, so I used a sample of this crazy American televangelist Kenneth Copeland talking about how he would cure viewers of Covid-19 through the TV, and “blow the wind of God” on them. This was also why I ended up using the famous amen drum break. It’s been so over-sampled in a lot of music that I love, drum and bass especially, so I didn’t think I’d end up keeping it. I was experimenting and just throwing in ideas and it somehow just worked with what I was making. It’s quite jarring and a bit hectic – and when you listen to the song from beginning to end it helps you get a real sense of the emotional rollercoaster I was going through.
One part of the song that I’m particularly proud of is where the arpeggiated synth is slowly building and you can feel the tension, like a rubber band being stretched. Then Kenneth blows the wind of God, the amen break comes crashing in and the arpeggiator pattern becomes more complex, increasing the perceived pace. It feels frantic and a bit unhinged, but then it evolves to make you feel a sense of release.
This is the first tune I’ve ever released, and one thing I’ve learned is that I have a natural desire to want things to change and be quite dynamic – I think this comes from my DJ background, playing big festivals and club gigs where peoples’ attention spans are short, and because I play so many different styles of dance music. But as someone making more underground electronic music, I now realise it’s also okay to let a song be more constant and rolling (which is definitely easier for DJs to mix with).
That said, I wouldn’t change No More Jenga; as a concept piece, I think it tells this story exactly how I wanted to tell it and offers a form of ‘time capsule’ to a challenging period of my life.
‘No More Jenga’ is out Friday, December 4.