Monday, January 13, 2020

Lost Tribe interview (Real Groove, Nov 1997)

The Lost Tribe – Check behind the fridge
By Grant Smithies, Real Groove, Nov 1997, p17.

Open wide. It's time for a taste of the true Pacifican flavor, yall. Beware of imitations and look for the mark of quality, namely the Urban Pacifica logo, a sure sign of music that is as UP main man Phil Fuemana puts it, "strong and proud with all its cultural soul intact."

The first sighting of Urban Pasifika's musical manifesto came in the shape of Moizna, four young women making R&B sweeter than pawpaw yet tough as coconut shell. Its the brothers turn to get busy as Lost Tribe step 'to the mlc to tell you what it means to be young, gifted and Polynesian.

Lost Tribe are Johnny 'JS Jester' Sagala and Danny 'Brotha D' Leaosavaii from Samoa, Kendall 'KD'' Kereopa Takai from the Cook Islands, Jonathan 'Son Tan' Pale from Tonga and DJ Jim E 'Finkas' Makai from the Niue Islands, all speaking for themselves but representing plenty. Debut single 'Summer in the winter' is crawling up the charts and Johnny Sagala is on the phone.

Johnny Sagala: "The band consists of people from a lot of Pacific Islands... Tonga, Samoa, Nuie and the Cook Islands and it's like, we're all descendants from those islands, with some of us born here and some of us born over there but living here in New Zealand we tend to get a bit confused about our identity. It's easy to become lost people in a lost land and the name Lost Tribe tries to express that feeling."

Your press release talks of Lost Tribe ''demanding respect for Polynesian culture, accountability for past injustice and Polynesian leadership for our future" and acting as "flag bearers for the Islands." Do you see yourselves as positive role models for young Pacifikans?

"I hope so. We're just speaking our minds on matters like identity and self respect, and trying to let the lads know that they don't need to look further than themselves to find a strong culture. You don't need to copy all those American styles, you know? That's what our first single 'Summer in the Winter' is about, knowing your own roots and being yourself. I have a son, and I want him to grow up smart, with a good head on has shoulders.

“I figure whatever I can teach my son, I can teach other young people. Even the way we work together sends out strong messages about Polynesian unity. Myself and DJ Finkas mainly hook up the beats, along with Phil Fuemana, and all four vocalists write their raps from their own viewpoints and cultural backgrounds, Just expressing ourselves as Polynesians and how we live every day, trying to be positive."

Chuck D of Public Enemy often talks about seeing rap as ''the black CNN' and himself as an ''urban reporter', dispensing the real news to his people.

"Yeah, and Lost Tribe are like the TV3 News for Polynesians! (laughs) We're the news service for those people from the Islands who maybe don't understand much English. Like we rap mostly English but with a lot of Polynesian flavour, a lot of jokes and references that Island people will recognise and relate to."

One refreshing thing about both yourselves and the rest of the UPR posse (Moizna, AKA Brown, Fuemana etc. all soon to be showcased on the Pioneers of a Pasifikan Frontier album) is the authenticity of your muisc, the lack of gangsta cliches.

"We're trying to be more honest with our music. That's not how we're living over here... we don't all have guns, racism here isn't nearly so blatant, we're in Auckland not Brooklyn it's the Polynesian capital of the world and it's all good! And of course hip-hop, even in the States, hasn't alway been about the gangsta life, lt used to be more funky party music with a message.

“Hip-hop is blowing up in this country at present, but people forget it's had a presence in New Zealand since the early 80s, back when the movie Beat Street came out. I mean we were bopping and breakdancing back when I was in Intermediate, and it was part of our culture, we weren't even thinking about trying to seem like Americans.

"Now though, here in South Auckland, there's so many young people massively influenced by American styles, dressing like that, talking like that, what are they gonna do next, carry guns? We just want to take that music back to the basics... pride, self respect, knowledge of your own culture, and the artform of living peacefully."

RELATED: Phil Fuemana interviewed in Stamp magazine, 1994.
Urban Pacifika profiled in Real Groove, June 1999

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