Wednesday, January 29, 2020

David Grace interview, 1998

Choose your weapons

Taranaki and the power of positive energy.

By Duncan Campbell, Real Groove, January 1998, p13

When that moment of inspiration comes, you've got to run with it. For David Grace it came at around 2 am one morning a year or so back when he was recording debut solo album Weapons Of Peace (Jayrem).

While brother John was laying down some bass tracks, David and roadie Chris Cubis were jamming in the garage next door. Cubis is a mean harmonica player and David was working up a song. The inspiration was the memory of his younger brother, who died in 1979, aged 14, from a heart ailment.

"One of my cousins said the time we did it is keehua [ghost] time - when the spirits start happening." David recalls "We wrote the song, then ran back to the studio and told the guys to drop what they were doing. We had to record it then, before we lost it. We wrote and recorded it in an hour and a half."

The song 'Live as one' is destined to be the first single. It has the potential to become a standard in the vein of 'Spiritual healing' or 'Redemption song' and marks the musical maturity of a man who, like many other Maori of his generation, thanks Robert Nesta Marley for turning his life around.

''We moved to Australia when I was 13. I didn't want to go there and before long I was going off the rails." A spate of juvenile crime was followed by an abrupt departure back to Aotearoa rather than spend time in prison.

David Grace returned to New Zealand a chastened and changed young man. Seeing Bob Marley in concert and hearing his message of love and unity spurred him to do something with the musical talent that was in his blood, His father was a working musician and just about all his whanau can play something ("we're born musos.")

At 33, Grace is embarking on a career that has taken a decade to bring about. He serves his apprenticeship with Dread Beat and Blood, whose albums Tribute To A Friend and All Our Lives are milestones in the development of Maori music.

After leaving Dread Beat in 1987, Grace formed Survival, who will be remembered largely for their work on the soundtrack of Once Were Warriors. Sadly they became the victims of music industry politics, and an album they recorded went unreleased. Grace formed a new band, Injustice, with his brother John, Sandy Ngatoto (ex Survival and Dread Beat).

The songs on Weapons Of Peace have been mostly written in the last three years. The reggae influence remains strong but only a Maori could have written 'Tino Rangatiratanga' or 'A lot of aroha'.

Grace was born in Wanganui and grew up in the Wellington region but has roots in both Taranaki and Ruatoria. 'Empower My People' celebrates the Taranaki chief Titokuwaru. In Revolution, Grace sings about 'our warriors - history books call them murderers' prompting the memory that until recently New Zealand history teachers were still referring to 'The Maori Wars' as though it was the Maori who started them.

"At school all they were teaching us was about Captain Cook and Christopher Columbus, what good guys they were. When I came back here from Aussie, I went to my marae and started reading the truth about what happened, and I was really pissed off. They sent missionaries to pacify our people.

“We gifted land to the missionaries so they could build schools, but a lot of them never did. Then they put the land in their own names and started selling it off. I thought I'd rather write about that than anything else."

The spiritual aspect of Graces music shines in 'Matua Whaia', whose lyrics basically translate as 'the father, the mother, the son and the holy ghost.' He has a deep affinity with other indigenous cultures and Weapons Of Peace includes tributes to the Kanaks of New Caledonia, the American Indians and the Ogoni of Nigeria. Ultimately it is to these people he wants to take his music.

David Grace is deeply interested in the Taranaki land claim but, as a father of three, he wants to give a positive message to the new generation. "We've got to move together - Maori, Pakeha, whatever. There's a lot of angry radical sorts around the place who are taking their anger out on people of today.

Instead of putting their energy into something positive they want to go around being negative, and they're being just as racist as the Nazis. We've got to put our energy and action towards the Crown and the Government. Thats where it's going to happen, not out on the street.

''Maybe I can do for one or two people what Bob Marley has done for me - wake me up and make me look around."

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