Robbie Hewson, One Waka’s vocalist, guitarist and spokesperson, admits to being obsessed with classic dub production, the likes of Lee Scratch Perry and King Tubby. The Christchurch dubsters, he says, always thought they’d go down the dub road rather than the Kiwi-common roots reggae road. ‘Dub Sea Voyages’ is their album of proof. Martyn Pepperell spoke with Hewson, along with drummer Teina Paniora and bass player Matt Yates.
“Bro, if this album comes out good and we’re really happy with, pressing it to vinyl would be success,” enthuses Robbie Hewson, vocalist, guitarist and koauau player in 7-piece Christchurch dub band One Waka.
“If we could press it to vinyl, be happy with it, and have a really vintage sound that stays true to some strong reggae elements and true to ourselves, I would be happy as. That’s success for me.”
Hewson is talking about ‘Dub Sea Voyages’, an album he’s been writing and recording with his bandmates since last summer. For One Waka, summer 2014/’15 was the best season of their career to date. After several years of playing and recording together the band were really moving around the country. They’d been performing at festivals in both the North and South Islands, and were forming what bassist Matt Yates describes as “some hearty songs” off them.
Inspired by the landscape and culture of places they were spending time in, like Kaikoura and Golden Bay, they rented a holiday home in Akaroa to record a bunch of demos.
“They served a massive purpose in helping shape what we wanted to do with it,” Hewson reflects. “It’s one thing to do it live, but it’s another to record it.”
When One Waka started playing together over a half a decade ago, their initial collective inspiration was powered by the excitement of seeing local dub, roots and heavy soul bands like Shapeshifter, Salmonella Dub and The Black Seeds play big atmospheric live shows. As the years progressed they found themselves delving deeper into classic ’60s/’70s Jamaican dub, and more recently, modern Californian roots reggae.
These influences were evident in their self-released 2012 debut EP ‘South Bay Sessions’, and are only more pronounced on the songs they’ve been working up for ‘Dub Sea Voyages’.
“We always thought we’d go down the dub route rather than the roots reggae route,” says Hewson. “I’m obsessed with classic dub production; King Tubby, Lee Scratch Perry etc. Traditionally dub was a production technique, but I think nowadays there is a new trend, especially with US roots bands like John Brown’s Body, to have a live band with a full horn section producing a live dub sound – rather than the dub being an after-production. We’re all about bringing a full sound.”
With the Akaroa demos as guides they connected with Peter Williams and Ben Delany from Riverside Sound Studios in Christchurch, and started laying down some proper recordings. Outside of an instrumentation and performance style focused on recreating dub in a live format, another central element in One Waka’s music is lyrical content rooted in reality and real life experiences.
“I suppose a lot of the tunes stem from individual experiences to begin with,’” Hewson says. “As we progressed, they began to be experienced as a band. I think we’re quite tight, not just at playing music – anyone in the band could hang out with anyone and get on great at any time. We go on snowboard trips together and do outdoorsy stuff. I think it’s a big influence on us.”
That tightness he attributes in part to the involvement of saxophonist Chris Henderson, and his sons Hemi and Teina Paniora (percussion, vocals, taonga puoro and drums, vocals respectively), rounding out a line-up that also includes James Johnston (keys, synths) and Greg Stanley (trumpet, guitar).
“Because of that, the vibe has extended out to the rest of us. We’ve grown together and been through a lot together. We’ve picked up a lot of people along the way. The fit has just been there. It’s what we’ve been about rather than just picking up session dudes. I think it’s been about the family buzz and life lessons along the way.”
Something that differentiates One Waka from some of the other dub bands active around NZ at the moment is their use of traditional Maori instruments like taonga puoro and te reo Maori vocals in some songs.
“My dad has a big dream about everyone in NZ being able to speak Maori or understand some Maori, regardless of who they are or where they are from,” Teina explains. “Being in the band helps him with that dream as well. The other guys in the band like Robbie and Matt, you’d swear they were more Maori than I am sometimes!”
After independently selling 1000 copies of their debut EP, performing at some key summer festivals and regularly playing around the South Island, One Waka are excited to see where ‘Dub Sea Voyages’ might take them.
“As important as the shows are the experiences we have with each other,” Hewson enthuses. “We go away and have endless laughs. I think that’s what keeps the ball rolling for us.”