Dalvanius Prime, The boogie woogie bugle boy of Patea
By Murray Cammick, Real Groove magazine, December 2001... continued. (part one here)
"Back in New Zealand, Dalvanius started to have an impact as a record producer. In 1982, 'E Ipo' by Prince Tui Teka reached No.1 on the sales charts and another 1982 Dalvanius production, 'Maoris On 45', by the Consorts, made it to No.3 on the single chart. Dalvanius put 'Maoris On 45' together for a fee.
''When our parents had parties at home we would bring out the ukulele and sing our Maori medley. We put together our medley of songs we did as kids. I was asked whether I was going to put my name on it and I said 'fuck off'. When it got to No.3 I nearly dropped dead.”
To release his next project, Dalvanius started his own label, Maui. To Rip It Up he spoke of his envisaging a ''Maori Motown''. A collaboration with Ngoi Pewhairangi, started in 1982. Ben Pewhairangi recalls: ''In 1982, Maui Dalvanius Prime walked into my home in Tokomaru Bay. On that day l knew our lives would never be the same. I watched my late wife Ngoi; once again she was the tutor, her student wide-eyed and eager to learn about Maoritanga. I recall their days and nights together, Kaiako [teacherl and Tauira [student] immersed in their work, oblivious to the existence of anyone.”
Their collaboration lead to the No 1 song 'Poi E' In 1984, by the Patea Maori Club.
“I have worked with people who had a command of the old language that was dying. Working with Ngoi Pewhairangi was such a blessing. She'd write words as I sang her the melody lanes. With 'Poi E' I wasn't going to compromise with an English version. If the beat doesn't sell it, nothing will.”
Poi E went on to gain praise as Single of the Week in UK music magazine NME, and the touring - Patea Maori Club played New York's Irving Plaza with the Violent Femmes.
|Ngoi and Dalvanius|
With your embracing of Maori language did people see you as a Johnny-come-lately? “Of course. Better to come late than not at all. Particularly from my own brothers as they were deeply immersed in the Maori culture. They were singing at the National Maori Culture Competitions but my audience is bigger.''
Did your upbringing as a child educate you about Maori culture? ''Every weekend we went to the Pa. I wasn't interested. I didn't want to be in the haka. I was into doo-wop groups and Phil Spector. At school we weren't allowed to speak the Maori language. 'We won't have that language here, thank you very much.' In the 50s Patea was such a redneck town.''
Dalvanius gained some allies in the music industry for his Maui label. “Hugh Lynn gave us his Mascot Studio for below mate's rates. Something like $15 an hour. I still made sure Patea Maori Club were totally rehearsed. Hugh was great. Maui would not have got off the ground without him. Tim Murdoch at Warner Music was great. What I loved about Warners was Patea Maori Club always got their royalties on time and to this day they always do. Their promotion team was always behind us.''
Why is there no Maori Motown? "What's the use of having a Maori Motown when you haven't got the vehicle by which it's going to be played, which is Iwi radio.”
Dalvanius claims Iwi radio is not making the contribution it should to Maori music. "Maoridom lives in this incredible luxury of having Maori radio funded by a state agency, yet they don't bloody play our shit. It's not happening because too many of these Maori programmers are all little cloney black Americans.
“A perfect example was when I went to the APRA Silver Scroll Awards. I was really pissed off when I drove through New Plymouth and I had the radio on and our local Iwi station, in one hour, played one Maori language record and two Kiwi artists. The function of Iwi radio was, one, to promote Maori artists and two, was to promote the Maori language. For me, Iwi radio stations are dysfunctional.
"I did these radical recommendations for the Arts Council and for NZ On Air. If you play 20 percent Maori content or Maori artists you get 20 percent funded. If you play 80 percent then you should be 80 percent funded, right? The biggest problem that Maori artists face is that they have to sing in the Maori language to get funded by Te Mangai Paho, and few Maori artists get funded by NZ On Air.
"I think that the New Zealand Music Commission should have funding for music productions. The Government should allocate funds to the commission, as you only get funding from both NZ On Air and Te Mangai Paho if you have a broadcaster. I think that is unfair.”
To support that idea, Dalvanius names artists who you don't hear on the radio, such as Mahinarangi Tocker or the Topp Twins, ''whose records sell''. Dalvanius regrets that high profile Maori artists miss out on funding.
'Te Mangai Paho, which is the funding agency, it's the Maori version of the tall poppy syndrome. You have Te Mangai Paho giving out grants of $30,000 to do an album. The acts do great, incredible albums in regards to Maori language, yet Iwi stations won't necessarily program them.''
Why did you start up the Maori & Pacific Island Recording Industry Association of New Zealand? "We formed the Association so that Maori cottage industry could have a voice. We've been doing huis for the last two years. The Maori music industry is hard to coordinate, we're all fighting for the same dollar.''
Dalvanius is keen to see further collaborations between Maori and Pacific island musicians, and is a big fan of Urban Pasifika Records boss Phil Fuemana.
"Phil's stuff is brilliant. Fuemana is the greatest indigenous record producer this country has. Herbs have only scraped the surface of the fusion of Pacific Island and Maori music."
Referring to Hawaiiki, from where his Maori ancestors migrated, Dalvanius quips, ''Last time I looked it was in the middle of a bunch of coconut trees''.