Friday, November 09, 2012

Phil and his phone

Phil Fuemana, photo by Greg Semu, Stamp, 1994.

Loud and Proud 
Stamp magazine, issue 45, 1994. Interview By Emma Farry

It's hard to miss Philip Fuemana – he's a big Polynesian brother. His size is matched only by his voice – he has been singing and producing music in South Auckland for the past decade. 

At last the work seems to be paying off with the release of the album from Fuemana ''New Urban Polynesian", released through Deepgrooves (we're not into self promotion, honest!) and the nationwide tour of Proud, a group of seven South Auckland based musical groups who will be touring the country to promote their compilation CD.

The musicians on the Proud tour make music described as "Urban Pacific." A new sound in the increasingly popular world music genre fusing Maori and Pacific rhythms with solid dance beats.

Names range from the more well known acts like the Pacifican Descendants, Semi MC's and Fuemana, to Sisters Underground, Otara Millionaires Club, acapella group Vocal 5. Radio Backstab and DJ Payback.

"Basically the idea behind the Proud tour and CD is to celebrate our colour. The music is mostly hiphop tinged - we call it street soul in the urban Pacific tradition."

The tour kicks off on February 19th and 44 will travel the country pedalling their wares from Auckland to Invercargill and everywhere in between.

The Proud artists will perform at theatres and underage venues and the aim, apart from the altruistic ''sharing of musical culture" is to promote the CD released in March thru Second Nature Records According to the promotional material, Urban Pacific music is receiving "considerable interest'' from the record industries in Australia and the USA.

So some major record labels are riding the Polynesian cool wave and that's fine by Fuemana who believes his time has come. ''The whole Proud thing in like a modern version of Motown - taking the talent and travelling around the country with it. It's about time this kind of music was taken seriously, the whole Pacifican thing is set co take off," Fuemana says with an authority few would want to contradict.

''The Pacifican influence can be found in the beats we use, our accents our singing inflections and language . We sound like Polynesians and we're proud of it. I hate that whole mimicking of America thing - we've got our music scene which is really strong."

Fuemana jokes that he gives good friend and sometime musical partner Matty J a hard time for rapping in an American accent, The unusual couple met first on the Christian music scene. Both wanted to be the best so they eventually got together with Fuemana's sister Christina to form Houseparty and took the music to the city.

The band had some local success but things really started to happen when Matty J left to go solo and Fuemana changed the name of Houseparty to one he found more culturally appropriate. Matty J now appears regularly with the band but is no longer a permanent member.

The Fuemana album. due out in late February, brings together the experiences of the brother and sister who have struggled to make their future secure through music. 

''We saw music as one way of getting out of Otara. The music is about survival and creating a future where my family and their kids can be comfortable.''

A rocky start in life bound the siblings of the Fuemana clan tightly together. It sounds like the stuff nightmares are made of. The kids were ''kidnapped'' back and forth between mum and dad until they finally ended up with their father who found it hard to cope with a young family.

''My mum would come and get us screaming and bundle us into a taxi - and then the next week the same thing would happen with my dad. I was the oldest and the whole thing made us really close," Fuemana says.

Things weren't always easy in the Fuemana household though. Growing up with violence took its toll and in his younger days Fuemana was not scared to throw his weight around.

At the age of 18 though Fuemana's life changed. It's the conversion story that's been round forever, but it never loses the drama.

"I had this weird experience and discovered Jesus, I didn't quite know what was happening to me at the time. My family were all really scared of me and someone had broken the strings on my bass and they thought I'd kill them - but it was like a turning point in my life and I just cried. It was like I could feel for the first time in many years. I felt like I'd been woken up."

Not one to clap hands and preach on street corners Fuemana is quietly grateful for the change in his life which he attributes to Christ. "I don't make a big deal about the Christianity thing but I was turned around and my whole life changed.''

For a few years his church thought Fuemana would be the great Polynesian convert who would lead the masses to the faith. (he toured New Zealand spreading the Good News four times) but now it seems his faith has led him elsewhere although he is still active as creative director for Manukau Christian City's 'Colour Blind Ministries.'

''None of the songs on the album are Christian based. I don't think I need to put my faith into every song because everyone who knows me knows what I think anyway." 

Fuemana is proud of his roots and he is fiercely loyal to South Auckland and is always promoting local talent. He is aware though that talent needs to be mixed with innovation.

''So many talented people just copy exactly what they hear on the radio and don't play any of their own stuff. There's women in Otara who can mimic Mariah Carey to the note but we'll never hear of them - people need to use their own ideas to get anywhere. I'd rather be poor and do original stuff."

Fuemana is critical of the fact that more Polynesians haven't become involved in the music industry.

"It's not Flying Nun's fault that there is so much white music around, we're to blame for it. We should have our own label - Flying Coconuts or something - we'd all be bloody rich by now. It's a typically Polynesian thing to sit back and say 'oh well'. but its now time for us to make our mark. We have to change our priorities,'' Fuemana says.

He hopes that by his example and involvement he can inspire others in the Polynesian community to follow their dreams.

"I really wanna get other people involved. I feel that I can be a leader and that other Polynesians may see what I've done and say 'yeah, I can do that' '' . 

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