|Phil Fuemana, photo by Greg Semu, Stamp, 1994.|
I read this story on the Urban Pacifika website about two years ago. Sadly, that website has now gone, but I found this today from 2006, while digging round the Wayback Machine at the Internet Archive. Some of this text appeared in Gareth Shute's book Hiphop Music in Aotearoa, published 2004. [UPDATE: I emailed Gareth to check if the writing below was from his book and he confirmed it was written by him, not Phil - he sent the text to Phil to read before it went into the book.]
Today marks 8 years since Phil Fuemana passed away. RIP.
The Phylpcyde story
The following are exerts taken from a book that Phil was writing about his life in Otara and the music industry, nothing has been added or taken away from what he wrote. For those who didn't know Phil, this will give you a little insight, into the way he thought. For those that did know him, you will recognise his touch.
The South Auckland Scene Breaks Through
If you looked at the early history of the Fuemana family, you would be unlikely to pick them as producing one of the most important forces in local hip hop. Father, Takiula Fuemana, arrived in Auckland from Niue during the 60s and began seeing a beautiful young Mäori woman , who was from Taranaki. The couple eventually had four children: Phil, Tony, Christina, and Paul. Phil Fuemana recalls: 'I was born in Otara but we shifted to … Parnell. All the coconuts used to work on the wharfs. Then our house was condemned to be knocked down. Now it's probably worth a million bucks - it's still standing …basically my mother left my dad and moved to Australia when I was five, which made Paul - the youngest - something like 18 months. So here’s this coconut guy who’s only 29 or 30 with four kids - one in a bassinet, one in a cot - living in the slum of Parnell, going to work and leaving us at home. Social Welfare wasn’t on the ball like it is now, so you’d have me - this five-year old looking after the other kids, all just waiting at home for Dad to come home. He’d shoot home every now and then, cos the wharfs were just down the road. Shoot home to check on us, go backwards and forwards.'
A few years later, the family moved to Otara, which Fuemana remembers as a marked improvement: '…it was like paradise - a quarter acre, fences, a proper house, three bedrooms, clean and tidy.' Though as he grew up, there was a rapid increase in the amount of lowly-paid workers moving into the area and he came to see it as more of a slum than Parnell had been. Many of Fuemana's friends became unemployed once they left school, but he was not one to fit into the stereotype: 'I'm someone who’s probably been on the dole for the longest a week, my entire life. Cos I left school, got a job, and when I quit that job … I was only on the dole for a week and I got picked up for the first PEP scheme - instead of the dole, you had to go and work. They make you dig fields … when I got there, I wasn’t a Christian. But it was run by Christians and they gave me my first opportunity.
See me and another boy - we could play and sing. We’d entertain. Then this thing came up where we could audition for the Youth for Christ team ... I went there, blew them away. I was the first browny on that team. My mate was too chicken … but I went. And the whole church raised money for me - bought me clothes - I had nothing. Had no skills, nothing … that’s when I really picked up my musical chops. We went all around New Zealand probably six times. I’m probably was the most travelled browny around haha! ... But what it really did was - it laid the foundation for knowing that you could achieve something with music.'
Through this experience and his cultural background, the church became a major influence on Fuemana: 'When you talk about PIs [Pacific Islanders], you talk about church - they go hand-in-hand. Whether they live that life or not is another question. But as far as people, we’re god-fearing. We love the lord, as much as we love our family. Our lives don’t always reflect that, but our spirit does. Especially in those days - probably in the mid-Eighties - when Pentecostal … was going off. It was place you could go and really be accepted and not be on the list as one of the hopeless, because everyone else was propbably hopeless too in there ... it was somewhere to attain to be something better. Whether or not it arrived or not was another thing, ya know? So I did the church thing. But really I got into the church thing cos of the music … Whereas at home - different story. I was like the one dude amongst a gangsta clique that wasnt a thug. I’ve always been accepted as: "oh, Phil’s the music guy. He’s got nothing to do with the drugs, the drinking, the stealing." I was never into all that buzz, but a lot of my friends were.'
After the leaving the Youth for Christ team, Fuemana started a group with singer Matty J - called "White Boy Black." This was followed by Fuemana's second group, which included his three siblings - Christina sung, Paul was a dancer, while Tony played bass: 'We started a crew called "Houseparty", only because of the Houseparty movie. We didn’t know anything about House Music really … so here’s us doing early English-style rap and R’n’B at this House gig at the Powerstation. They were all just standing looking at us thinking - "what tha…?" But we did a single - "Dangerous Love." We recorded it in Australia. Me and Matty J were still working together then … but I wasn’t really feeling what it was. So I hooked up with Stuart Pierce and JB and some people like that. The influence I wanted was more like my first taste of America … I wanted a sound like 'Ghetto Heaven' by Family Stand. So we bit a loop out of there and that was our first movement to the States and it came out. It set the pace.'
Fuemana began to be well-known in the local music scene and took on the name, Phylcyde. In late 1993, someone at the local Arts Centre suggested that they he send in some demos to a new project, which was being set-up by a local record producer. Fuemana recorded six tracks at the Christian City Church in Manakau (which has since closed down). He did not end up using all the material he had recorded: 'I submitted four tracks. The Ermehn track [DJ Payback and Radio Backstab]. Another guy - Hayden - which didn’t make it. Instead he joined Semi-MCs, as one of the two lead singers with Sam. And … I forget the other track - it didn’t get on there either. Just two of them did: Radio Backstab and OMC [Otara Millionaire's Club]. The OMC track I submitted was an instrumental. And I went to the studio and sold the instrumental to them as an Otara thing. Cos they were feeling the music like - "wow!" … Ermehn and Paul were both living with us in the garage along with the other two boys. So I said: "Get the hell up man! Just write anything." I had the hook down, I just needed the raps. I would’ve done the whole … thing if I was feeling it. I knew this was an opportunity, but I didn’t know where it was really heading. There was no such thing as the tour - there was only the record. We went into Alan’s studio - Jansson - which was an awesome experience, because that man’s a hit maker, ya know?'
Alan Jansson was looking for more new rappers who were able to fit within a popular music style, following his success with the Chain Gang (see Ch 2). He had seen the talent which existed in South Auckland and had organised for different artists to be recorded for an album - Proud: An Urban Streetsoul compilation - which was distributed through Australia's Volition Records. Originally the plan was to release tracks by the long-standing outfits, such as the Semi-MCs, but eventually Jansson decided on a number of newer groups as well - including female MC pair: Sister's Underground. Their track, 'In the Neighbourhood,' was also released as a single and it sold moderately well, both at home and in Australia.
The instrumental OMC track which Fuemana had submitted, eventually became: 'We R the OMC.' the other group on the album Fuemana produced - DJ Payback and Radio Backstab - also included Jerry To'omata who had previously been in Double J and Twice the T. Fuemana found Jansson took over the musical direction of the tracks: 'Some of the tracks changed and we werent feeling the way they were changed, but in hindsight I’ve done the same as a producer, in my own career. There are things you’ve gotta do to fit into the market you’re trying to create.'...
Another hip hop crew that was on the Proud compilation was Pacifikan Descendents. Sane Sagala from Enemy Productions (see Ch 2) formed the group: 'Me and my friend, Fatu Su’a, entered a talent quest at my school and won. It was just the two of us then my brother joined. We got DJ Jimmy. We had two dancers - Ali Cowely and Willie Bowata - and another guy from UCD: Mark A'ava.' The new group soon hooked up with the Proud crew, through an old connection: 'During the enemy production years we were managed by DJ Andy Vann, who knew Alan Jansson - they did Second Nature records together. And it was Alan's studio we were using - Uptown Studios.'
The Pacifikan Descendents tracks on the album added a Pacifican vibe to the usual hip hop sound. For example, the first few bars of 'Tuesday blues' kicked in with solo ukelele, then live drums come in, followed by programmed beats and the rapping begins; and 'Pass it Over' - begins with a groove of Cook Island drums. Sagala saw this approach as a sign of the times rather than a long-term goal: 'In the mid-90's, the rapping style back then - we were trying to be pro-Islanders so we incorporated island drums and stuff into the music and the live show as well. But, I’ve done the back-pack style. I’ve done the island style. And all the underground type styles … and whatever I do, I’m doing as a Samoan, I don’t need to be waving a flag around or anything.'
Fuemana on the Pacifikan Descendents:
'…now they were ground-breaking to me. They were doing things that we didn’t recognise really, back in the day. To me … I don’t think they got their dues. If you listen to "Pass It Over," it’s … deadly man. I mean, its execution, its delivery. It was tight. And it’s original. There was nothing to imitate - there wasn’t a heritage of artists to imitate, it was just them!'
Proud eventually reached the top of the compilation charts and was also accompanied by a tour, which took place in February and March 1994 and included eight bands: OMC, Vocal Five, Di Na Ve, 3 B Chill, Sisters Underground, Pacifican Descendents, Matisa, and Fuemana. The last of these was a group that featured both Phil and Christina Fuemana - they released an album through Deepgrooves. Musical backing was provided by a DAT tape which had been previously recorded with Chris Sinclair at the Lab studio in Auckland. Fuemana was given the job of being the Musical Director (MD) on the tour, since he had previously had some experience in this role through his work MDing the Nationwide tour of his church group (which included young singer, Carly Binding).
Fuemana had difficulties keeping all 40 of the performers focused on the task at hand: 'Here's me managing a busload of 40 big Island boys, who’d never been out of … South Auckland. And here they are shoplifting all over Christchurch … getting chased down the street in Dunedin. It was shell-shock for the towns, which the boys just treated like one big Disneyland. Being in South Auckland you’ve got to behave yourself or you get clipped or somebody else beats you up or you get taken in. But who the hell’s gonna touch you in Queenstown? And here they are with new jackets and shoes . Every now and then the cops would turn up and we'd be like: "oh yeah, rah rah rah, here’s the gear back, sorry!" And there were things about the money … we all underestimated the eating power of 40 big guys. Come on man - all those months we were on tour, eating three times a day. Now they can truck it back. You can’t feed them on a couple of pies - that won’t work ... So instead of living off the money we had, we were living off the money we were making … And every motel something would be busted and we’d have to pay for it. And that’s not counting the gas, paying the driver, the whole thing, ya know. How the hell we made it, I don’t know!'
The tour organisers were also disappointed by the lack of support that the tour received in the South Island, especially from the small community of PIs who lived in the towns where they played. However, the welcome was far more positive in the North island, where locals appreciated seeing Polynesian music that was performed in a modern style rather than being the purely cultural acts which they were used to, as Fuemana remembers: '…the Mäori kids, they’re into hop hop hardcore and so the north side was easy - real easy. It wasn’t always packed, ya know, but it was always there - the support was always there.'
Unfortunately, the South Island leg of the Proud tour was also marred by the death of Eniasi Tokelau, who was dancing for the Packifkan Descendents. After the tour finished many of the groups broke up, as Fuemana puts it: 'The ones that had the skill are still here today. The ones that had nothing, their careers ended on that tour. I guess, a lot of them tried to put the blame on us.'
In fact, Fuemana felt that the influence of the Proud project was overestimated, overblown : '…if you look at Proud for what it was - it was something that Alan and whatever label he was shopping with, was working. For us, Proud wasn’t something that was like our big inspiration to achieve. It didn’t set the benchmark for where our music was going. It was just something that came along - all of us were already on that journey anyway. Really, it was a free-ride for us. We were taking this journey with or without Proud.
The music industry wants to attribute everything to Proud. come on now we were on that journey already. And to have some other people think that they can take from us. Hell no! Sane and them were already going. We already doing our thing. Ermehn was already rapping...Proud didnt make us, we made Proud,to be straight, it took some white cat to come along and save the day for us. The power of one again, ya know ... And that’s been the truth for every culture. That no matter how hard we work, it’s always gonna take some white cat to come in and give us that 'defining moment', so. No matter how hard we work, it’s gonna be some nice Pakeha kid who’s gonna decide whether or not we get released, ya know. It doesn’t mean just because Nesian Mystik got big that there aren’t some other cool kids like that with the same talent. Mystic probably just had the breaks - bumped into the right white guy…hahah'
The Proud tour almost saw the end of OMC - by the time they returned to Auckland, things were coming to a head within the group and it seemed they were doomed to collapse. Alan Jansson encouraged Paul to keep OMC going as a solo project. By this time Phil Fuemana had moved on to other projects and he was quick to distance himself from the eventual success of the OMC album: '…that Jansson had the eye to see a star in Paul, was all owed to him. That’s his thing. He saw Paul’s stardom, not us. He was the one that took Paul and did "How Bizarre." Ya know, that was all their thing.'
So, despite the odds, OMC continued and Jansson worked alongside Paul (now widely known as "Pauly") to create a new sound for the group. The influence of Pauly's Niuen background came into the fore and he began writing songs with a Pacific Island guitar style. Jansson was quick to see the potential of fusing this uniquely Polynesian sound with the current feel of hip hop. However, it was a chance comment of Pauly's - that both his girlfriend and Jansson kept calling everything 'bizarre' - which produced the song that they were looking for. Jansson prompted Pauly to put down a vocal track straight away and the track 'How Bizarre' was born.
Simon Grigg, who was head of the 'Huh!' label that had distributed Proud compilation in Aotearoa, quickly recognised the track as a potential hit and worked hard to give it was wide release - not only locally, but also in Australia. The track went on to spend three weeks at number one on the NZ charts, gained two awards at the APRA (Australasian Performing Rights Association) Silver Scroll Awards, and received four trophies at the 1996 Clear Music and Entertainment awards of New Zealand (including: 'Most Promising Vocalist,' 'Most Promising Group,' and 'Best Single.' This was just the beginning of the track's success. Worldwide, it eventually sold over a million copies and went to Number one in the hit charts of Australia, Ireland, South Africa, and Austria. It reached the top five in the UK, Canada, Germany, Sweden, Switzerland, and Israel. It also made the top 10 in Denmark, Holland, Portugal, and Singapore - truly an International success!
The album, which Pauly had recorded at the same time as the single, was released in April 1996 and received four stars in the English magazine Q. Sales of the album did not match the single, but were still considerable and Pauly Fuemana had achieved his dream, becoming a millionaire from Otara! But, things were not all smooth sailing: Pauly had an altercation with one of the men from the US record company. Suddenly the record company got cold feet about their planned mass distribution of the album. The second single, a cover of Randy Newman's 'I Love L.A.' went over badly and OMC began to fade from view. Meanwhile, behind the scenes, rifts were appearing between Alan Jansson and Pauly - eventually they went to arbitration to settle their differences. This effectively ended OMC and the group disappeared as quickly as it had appeared.
Phil Fuemana reflects on the success of 'How Bizarre':
'…people probably still talk about How Bizarre and … in the end, that came from us, ya know? There'd be no How Bizarre if we didn’t wake up in the morning. It just took some Pakeha producer to turn up with the clout and the contacts and boom - it was away. It was always there, it was living in our garage … I'm not surprised "How Bizarre" went off, because it’s probably one of the few times in the entire musical history of New Zealand that a record company believed in someone to take him outside of the country. How come, K'Lee had five top ten hits and wasn't released outside our country? What the hell's with that? And now she's been dropped from Universal … Why isn’t Che released in Aussie or England or Europe? Ya know, why aren’t they? … How many hits do you have to have before you're released somewhere else? Do they really believe that we'll never make it outside this country. You could name how many people have made it outside this country probably on one finger ... What's it gonna have to take for us to be another Ireland, where we can have the big huge hits? Are they waiting for the group? Does that mean we don’t have the talent? We don't the group to do it? I'm sure we have, ya know? … But that's the industry - our industry needs to change.'
Another act that rose out of the Proud crew was solo artist, Herman 'Ermehn' Loto - who was notorious for playing live dressed in a lava lava and waving a machete over his head. He began his rap career as an early member of OMC, before joining Radio Backstab and DJ Payback, who also had a track on the Proud compilation. After leaving the group, Ermehn recorded his track 'Walls of Steel' with the Feelstyle (see Ch 5). This track was featured on Aotearoa Hip Hop Vol 1 (see Ch 4). Ermehn followed this with an album, Samoans: Part 2, which was recorded by Andy Morton (the Submariner) at Hutt Studios and released through Deepgrooves in October 1997. Contributors on the album included: Manuel Bundy, DJ Subzero, Teremoana Rapley, Phatmospheric, and Ermehn's cousin Marie Vaa. Ermehn's Samoan heritage was represented not only by the track content but also by the cover which showed Mau leader Tupua Tamasese Lealofi III. The tracks also focused on South Auckland and 'Who holds the knife' talked about the devastating effect of the notorious South Auckland Rapist who was operating at the time.
Phil Fuemana on Ermehn:
'Ermehn is our angry young man ... He lived with us and, I mean, he probably hated everyone on the planet except our family. We showed him love when he needed it. But he’s probably the most under-rated MC in our country. And, like Brotha D, he’s what we would call a real gangsta - they’re from the streets, they had the fights, they were in the cliques, they were leading crews. And it shows in their music … anyone who perceives to try and think they’re something tough, let them meet up with Danny or Ermehn on a bad day.'
Meanwhile, Phil Fuemana had spent the time since 1995 gathering together a new set of artists. He chose a new name for his label: Urban Pacifika Records (UPR). Once again, the focus was on South Auckland as a Polynesian centre. One of the first groups he brought together were the rap group, Lost Tribe: 'I met Danny [Leaosavaii], he pumped my gas in my car everyday and so I met him. I was already considered - in my hood - a producer … Danny just said "Hey man, I love what you did with Proud." And I invited him - “Hey do you wanna come to this thing, I’m trying to set-up this new record company for us.” And he said, “Yeah I’ll come along.” …
Lost Tribe was me and Danny first, meeting Danny or Brotha D to you, changed my life, basically he saved me, me and that are dude are tight, i love him like a brother, i knew when i 1st meet him that he was special, look at d-raid now...thats Danny all the way...then Johnny [Sagala] who i met and became friends with on the Proud tour joined. we then went looking for two guys. we were running like a thing in a club in town. So we ran auditions and that's when we met Son Tan [Jonathon Pale] and Sinbad. This was before Kendall [KD] - Sinbad did the original KD rap off 'Summer in the Winter.' Then he left - because of church ... and we met Kendall. Because we were running an Auckland hip hop summit at the Powerstation...back in the day when summits were unheard of. And it was cool - we had everyone in there, che fu, kapisi, dlt, every dj with a rep..we did that. It was all done from heart. And then from there, Kendall was ringing me all the time - "look I want to be in the next summit, I want to be in the next summit." I said - "bro, if you’ve got the skills then we need a rapper for Lost Tribe." He just turned up and blew us away!'...
Jonathon Pale (Son Tan) had only returned to Auckland in 1992. He had been sent to Tonga by his mother after being expelled from Mangere High School. Pale remembers: 'It was just like that King Kapisi song, ya know? "Take them back home to the motherland and teach / the ways of our elders, lifestyles, and the speech." Well that's exactly what happened to me in 89!' Pale's relations took him in and organised jobs for him - which often involved days of hard grueling work in the hot sun. When Pale returned to Aotearoa after three years in Tonga, he found that a number of his friends had been involved in the TCGs (Tongan Crip Gang) - many were in jail and others had become heavy drug users. Looking for something to occupy his time, Pale began getting seriously into writing raps and took the name, Son Tan to show he was proud of his Tongan heritage. In 1996, he entered a local freestyle competition and met Danny 'Brotha D' Leaosavaii, who invited him along to an audition the following week - Brotha D remembers: 'The plan was always to get a group together - there's more power in numbers, ya know?'
Lost Tribe was finally completed by the addition of a final member: Jim 'DJ Fingas' Makai (previously from Pacifikan Descendents). This addition meant that the group had members from many of the different Pacific Islands - DJ Fingas was Niuean, KD was Rarotongan, Son Tan was Tongan, and both Brotha D and Sagala were from Samoa. From the start, the group was focused on presenting their perspective on life in Aotearoa from a Polynesian point of view. The name 'Lost Tribe' was used to represent Pacific migrants who were unsure about where they fit into contemporary society in Aotearoa and the group saw themselves as representing for these people - promoting unity amongst them and expressing the new culture which they were developing.
The other rap act Fuemana recruited for the Urban Pacifika project was Dei Hamo - Sane Sagala's new working title. At the end of the Proud tour, Sagala had broken up the Pacifikan Descendents so that he could pursue a solo career. His first move was to find a regular performance slot: 'During 95/96, I had a residency down at the Box - Cause Celebre. And I played for two years with Nathan Haines down there - every Friday and Saturday night. We’d freestyle two one-hour sets - unrehearsed ... It gave me the opportunity to perform with a live band - just working with musicians. We did a lot of jazzy stuff for the first year. Then because Nathan started travelling, he left … Nathan’s brother Joel took over the band when Nathan left ... The rest of the band were mainly Chilean, so we started moving into South American styles and did a few gigs around town at dance-type festivals.'
During his time working with Nathan Haines, Sagala was also involved in recording an album - Shift-left - which incorporated all the members of the live band. This experience also meant that Sagala played many gigs that were out of the scope of a usual hip hop artist, including opening for Ronny Jordan at the Town hall. When the residency at Cause Celebre came to an end, Sagala hooked up with an old friend to form a new group: 'Dei Hamo was actually the name of a crew to start out with. The guy I started Pacifikan Descendents with, Fatu Su'a - that was the guy who I started Dei Hamo with. And "Dei Hamo" - "hamo" is short for "Samoan" and "dei" is short for "they" - so it translates "they are Samoan." But what happened was - the friend who I started the crew with went to varsity and I was stuck with the name.'
Sagala had first met Fuemana during the Proud tour and was the last to be asked to join the Urban Pacifika crew: 'it was like finding a new family cos everyone who was in UPR shared the same dream, the same goal, and the same passion - it was just beautiful.' The project also gave Sagala the opportunity to have more control over his music than he had previously been able and they worked with a state of the art Akai MPC to program the backing tracks. Nonetheless he was entirely satisfied: 'as good as it was, it could’ve been better. I guess I wasn’t happy with my level of production back then - just due to my lack of experience I think.'
Phil Fuemana acted quickly to push the project through to completion and distribute it: 'I went for a grant from Creative New Zealand, got some money … other guys who were getting money from Creative New Zealand were just squandering it ... but I recorded a demo of eight tracks and that had: AKA Brown, Moizna, the Lost Tribe, Dei Hamo, a guy from down the line called Bobby Owen, and that was it. There were the tracks. And I went shopping - I shopped it, because I’d just done the Proud thing. It had been like a year or two. And we were feeling like … "man, we gotta get into the game at the Alan end. Where we’re making the calls. Instead of being … called on."
So, ya know, I was taken to dinner by these record companies ... They offered twenty-grand at the table. And I was gonna take it … twenty-grand! I ain’t got nothing. But I thought I’d just hold out and then it was Sir-vere, well i knew him as Phil Bell back in the day... that said “hey, I heard you’re shopping some music around, how come you’re not coming to us?” I said - "you guys are so busy." Cos they had Tangata, they had Wildside - they had all the labels up there, it was packed. DLT, Che Fu and everything. But I was thinking - it’s unusual I haven’t come, I’ve always wanted to ...
So I actually went up and for the first time met Kirk, but what blew me away was - I went in the room there. I saw guys in my age range or headspace range. I thought - hey, now we’re … talking! And Kirk was pretty stand-offish, but that’s him, he’s too cool. He puts a CD in, he listens and says - aw yeah! … He goes - "what do you want?" I said - "I dunno, a deal." And he said - "nah, what do you really want?" I thought to myself- "I want a jeep." That same week, I had a jeep and a record deal ... No one else had done that. We did it....i had a Pajro jeep back when they were cool....and music paid for it'
UPR joined with BMG to release their debut compilation - Pioneers of a Pacifikan Frontier. Along with Lost Tribe and Dei Hamo, two R'n'B groups were featured - a.k.a Brown (which featured Sam Feo from Semi-MCs) and Moizna (a West Auckland all-female R'n'B group, who had some success with their singles: 'Keep on Moving' and 'Just Another Day'). All four groups came together to record a single, 'One.' This song took the chorus melody and bass line from a Split Enz song 'One Step Ahead,' appropriated with the permission of original writer Neil Finn. Once again it was a case of keeping the flavour on entirely local tip. The groups also came together to do a re-working of the Dave Dobbyn song 'Beside you.' Originally they worked this song for a special performance at the New Zealand APRA Awards, but they recorded it and the resulting track appeared not only on 'Pioneers' but also as a B-side on Dave Dobbyn's next single.
Fuemana wrote and produced most of the backing tracks on the album and played many of the instruments himself: 'Only because I was the one who was in it the longest and I could handle MIDI … that was it. Not because they didn't want to. They'd give their ideas and, I guess, as a producer if you have the concept or the dream, like Alan had … you have to drive it and you drive it musically too. Then you hope that the crews can find their individual voices on their next thing.'
Kirk Harding at BMG was particularly impressed by the Lost Tribe track, 'Summer in the Winter' - as Fuemana remembers: 'Kirk saw something - the beginning of something. He loved Lost Tribe - he heard the original Lost Tribe track that’s never been released - the original Summer in the Winter with a different rapper in there and a different, well, a less-sanitised music approach - it was pretty harsh. But I think, to our own detriment, we cleaned them up too much. But that was the times though…'
Kirk Harding convinced his company to help fund a music video for the song and they released it as a single and it eventually entered the Top 20 in 1997. Lost Tribe also had some success on student radio with their track 'Five B.U.N.G.A' - it spent months on bFM's Top 10....kirk has always been 100% supportive and he's still pulling favors for the d-raid clique today..u the man kirk..love u dude!!1
Unfortunately, despite having a number of hit singles, the Pioneers album did not sell as much as Fuemana had originally hoped. He partly sees this as a failing of those involved in the marketing of the album: 'To me, I felt, like, Kirk sorta left at a crucial time - he had to do his thing - but I felt like, no blame to BMG or anything, but it was something I felt like they didn’t know how to market correctly. Saying it now is pretty easy. remember there was no big pacific music hype like today, But I was in the thick of it too. I probably didn't know how to market it. Probably if it was released now it'd be something totally different...something mad crazy.'
Once, Phil Fuemana had moved on to other things, Dei Hamo found that the Urban Pacifika group quickly fell apart: 'Phil got a job at BMG and … when he wasn’t at the helm of Urban Pacifika records, pushing all the artists, they kinda just folded, which proved that he was really the driving force behind most of the groups. But the people that branched off from Urban Pacifika records did well … like Brotha D - when all the bands had split up, he started Dawnraid with Andy [see Ch 9]. John Chong-Nee - he started producing. And I myself went off and did a business course and just took some time off from music for a couple of years.'
Despite the fact that Urban Pacifika failed to live up to his expectations, Fuemana remembers those days as enjoyable, hot: 'Back in the day, it was cool to just be … broke and have nothing. Have the electricity cut off, have your phone get cut off. You watch TV - "and at number six, AKA Brown." And tomorrow, the power's going off!' Though, once Fuemana had a family, he felt the needed to move into a more secure position - that of record producer rather than artist: 'I'm actually in a position, where Alan was and still is. So I've actually achieved what I wanted - when I saw Alan, I thought I want to be like him - own all the gear. He probably got the most money out of Proud, deservedly - we were in his studio.
So if you have a hundred grand budget, ya know? Who gets it? The producer, the video director, the photo-shooter - the artist? No. You can wait for sales and when the sales do come - oh, you've still got to pay back the manufacturing and blah-blah-blah. You don't get nothing. The people who get the money are all the peripheral dudes around the industry not the artists...im one of those peripheral dudes now...haha.'
Fuemana is also pleased that his brother has made such a good living off the music industry and now reports that he is: '…enjoying life, doing what he wants to do. He lives here, but he travels the world whenever he feels like it. He's got a few kids now with his same missus he had before he was big....i love my bro dearly and im damn proud of what he achieved...no one has come close to that since,....im real happy with where im at today, im working in the Maori music industry working with new artist, sorta giving back to my Maori side, but also discovering a love for my Maori culture and im also developing a annual festival for Niue to represent my Niuean spirit. so its all good in the hood...one last thing before i roll out..."remember in the darkness what you've seen in the light"...274 for life!!!
So after a decade in the music industry, with 3 New Zealand Tui Music awards, Apra scroll nomination, Gold and Platinum discs and 7 NZ Top 40 Hits, Fuemana built an empire from the ghetto up that is an inspiration to the South Auckland artists that have followed.