Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Gifted and Brown interview, 1992

Wellington group Gifted and Brown, photo by Phil Simpson, Planet magazine 1992

Gifted and Brown; Soul of the Pacific

By Makerita Urale, photo by Phil Simpson. Planet magazine, #8 Winter 1992, p34

The big noise in Wellington dance club scene these days comes from Gifted and Brown, purveyors of Polynesian rap, funk, and soul. The name was coined by the group's youngest member MC Bran Muffin [now known as King Kapisi], and it's an expression of what much of the music’s about.

The face of programmer and producer Gerrard Tahu, framed by long dreadlocks draped casually over his shoulders, is thoughtful and serious when he says that this is a band with a message.

“One of the things we write about is being Polynesian and living in the 90s in Aotearoa. Our overall message is an affirmation of ourselves as Polynesian. Don't be shy - you can do anything you see people of other races and cultures do. Feel positive about who you are and get out there and do whatever you want to do. Whether it be photography, journalism or music, don't be half-pie about it or treat it as a joke or something to do until you get a so-called real job.”

Tahu, Muffin, [MC AT] and NZ DJ champion DJ Raw started the band about a year ago as a live rap group, but when Mara Finau (formerly of the Holidaymakers) joined, the style broadened to taken soul influences.

“Suddenly we had a soul diva,” Tahu explains. “And we had to use her singing. That really took us into the singing world because Bill [Bran Muffin] and Atawhai [MC AT] have beautiful voices too.”

The band’s Maori and Samoan heritage doesn't stop at sweet harmonies either. Their live spontaneity and “brown” humour flows from the stage in gibes and quips to each other and the crowd, ensuring warm vibes without diluting the hype. They even schedule in opportunities for people in the crowd to jump up and jam onstage. There's something for everyone.

“The samples and grooves we use are predominantly 70s-based, but there's a contemporary production done on them. It has a heavy dance beat, so we have a strong appeal to young people, including the urban Polynesians. But we also appeal to older people because of the soul influence

“I've called us hardcore in the past but I think there's too much soul in it to be considered as such. It doesn't mean the soul influence weakens our music, it strengthens it.”

The links with black America extend beyond sweet soul music. Tahu feels an affinity with American blacks and sees a relevance here in the history.

“Whatever ground the American blacks gain in terms of human rights filters out to other cultures living within a European-dominated society.”

Two songs, ‘Chocolate city’ and ‘So much soul’ have been recorded at Wellington’s Village Sound studio and a release is pending. The work they’ve put into live performances should ensure big hometown sales to a growing posse of enthusiastic fans.

“As far as the music scene in Wellington goes, I think what we've created is something totally new. What we've done for ourselves is like job creation. We can now go to nightclubs and do 40 minute sets within their dance scenes. We’re not like any other band in Wellington because we sound different and we work within the dance scene, which means our format is different too, making our sets shorter and more intense.”

Gifted and Brown have already demonstrated that their name is something more than a collective ego trip. But perhaps the last word on that should go to Tahu:

“Our name”, he says with a grin, “is not an exaggeration. It is an affirmation.”

Gerard Tahu, Planet magazine, #3, 1990
Gerard Tahu, Planet magazine, #3, 1990

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