It is with great sadness I write this for my friend Pauly Fuemana. There are a lot of questions - most of them unanswerable - as to how and why Pauly is no longer with us.
I had little idea he had been suffering for many years from a neurological condition. He never told me. But Pauly was a very proud man.
I met Pauly in the early ’90s around High St, when he was driving his Triumph Herald convertible around town with the roof down. We arranged to meet up one night at Cause Celebre where I was playing and we hit it off straight away. He looked sharp and handsome, and had an air of confidence that would one day become part of his trademark stage presence.
I cannot pretend to know of Pauly before this and of his MCing on early OMC tracks. But he had garnered the respect of the sizeable hip-hop community that came to our gigs to jam with us on most weekends. Pauly was much more than hip-hop. You could tell by the way he dressed. No baggy trousers, backpack and baseball cap for him!
The first time I heard How Bizarre I was walking down Berwick Street market in London and I heard it on the radio coming from a fruit stall. I had never heard the song, but recognised Pauly's inimitable vocal delivery straight away. I really couldn’t believe it.
A few months later I came back to New Zealand and saw the massive impact he and OMC had made. I visited Pauly in his apartment in town – he had originally been living in the council flats on Grey’s Ave, but the record company had provided an upmarket serviced apartment by the High Court.
He told me How Bizarre had gone big in Europe, and asked if I would help him put the live show together for a promo tour. “Sure.” I said and called my buddy DJ Manuel Bundy, and the three of us nutted out the live set that we performed some weeks later on the Big Day Out tour around Australia. Taisha Khutze was on vocals, and we all did our damndest to be part of OMC and to back Pauly.
Everyone came to see How Bizarre but in the bargain they got 40 minutes of us, Pauly coming with new lyrics, and flipping some of the album material on its head for the live show. Of course when eventually we played How Bizarre the place erupted.
Not too long after we did a two month promo tour of Europe – UK, all around France, Germany, Italy, Holland, Spain... I can’t even remember all the places we went, but most of it was TV appearances playing How Bizarre. People were fascinated by Pauly, and in those pre-Lord of the Rings times, New Zealand was still very exotic and almost unheard of. Pauly played the perfect gentleman to the press, and spoke openly of his past and background.
At our gig at the Louvre in Paris, during How Bizarre Pauly was mobbed by people rushing onto the stage. He just laughed and attempted to carry on singing. The next day we were shopping around the Le Halles district, and he got mobbed in the street. People were shouting “How Bizarre, How Bizarre!!”. We ran into a shop to escape, and they locked the door. Pauly ended up buying a lot of clothes there.
By this time the record was starting to take off in the US. A few personnel changes later, including the addition of Pauly’s brother Tony on bass, and we re-assembled in New York for rehearsals. This time we were gigging for real. Pauly was very focused this time, and he had very clear ideas about what he wanted from us, how we should look, and knew he had a chance to take his sound to the world.
It was also around this time, it seemed as if the vultures were starting to close in. It’s hard to describe the pressure that was on him, but it was beyond enormous. We were living on a tour bus, sleeping in tiny bunks, while driving overnight to gigs, and Pauly got news of a bad deal concerning some people he was working with. Pauly was incredibly, incredibly loyal, and couldn’t understand when those close to him were not the same. I do not know the exact circumstances, but I do know Pauly became very upset. For him it questioned the whole validity of why he was doing it. He also missed home, and his wife. He called her as much as he could.
After the US tour I remember saying goodbye to Pauly at the aiport, and I really did wonder at that time what was going to happen to my friend. It seemed the whole circus surrounding him was this huge machine that was eating up everything, including Pauly’s sanity, his royalties, and perhaps, eventually his health.
We did a two week tour of Brazil some time later which was a real highlight for us. Myself and Pauly shared a love of bossanova, so to be together in Brazil was crazy. Pauly was in fine form.
Pauly was incredibly generous – to a fault. I remember walking into the Gucci store in New York and Pauly said, “Bro, what do you want?” I refused, but eventually he bought me some sunglasses, which strangely enough I left in the bag on the subway on the way home and never even got to wear them.
Pauly gave me a CD of demo’s around 18 months ago. I listened to it and heard those flashes of brilliance I had heard in hotel rooms around the world, after the gig, when we hung out and jammed. We had all come up with vocal parts, and for me, this was some of the most enjoyable moments playing with Pauly that I ever had.
It seems tragically sad that these songs will now never see the light of day. Pauly struggled to keep his head above water in an industry that is full of so much greed, where there is little regard for the human being behind the facade, and where it’s become almost common place to hear of musicians leaving this earth way before they needed to. At the same time Pauly was very very proud of his heritage, of being a New Zealander, and of his life in music. But Pauly’s real life was his family, and his children and he loved them passionately. That was infinitely more important to him than his gold records and accolades.
God bless, Pauly.