Thursday, August 20, 2020

Dam Native interview by Kerry Buchanan, Real Groove, Oct 1997

Danny Haimoana, Dam Native, 1997

Dam Native - Wasted days and wasted nights, by Kerry Buchanan, Real Groove Oct 1997

“Have come along way since the day / now everyone wants to be down with that Dam Native / Horrified one with the real lyrics to uplift our Maori nation” - “Horrifed One”

Okay, so I don’t have a tape recorder, I forgot it in the mad dash to get to BMG’s palatial office to talk to Dam Native. They don't care, I don't care, let's just get on with it. Drink a few beers and go with the flow.

Let's rewind for a history lesson: The Dam Native whanau goes back many years, possibly a decade of hanging together. Danny Haimona is a Wellington home boy, Island Bay to be precise, moving to Auckland when he was 13. By accounts, Danny started to live the life, the streets offer solace for those who seek it.

Things could've been different if it hadn't been for the influence of certain mentors - ex-Upper Hutt Posse members DLT and Teremoana Rapley, and master carver George Nuku who helped in an awareness of Maoritanga. Possibly in reaction to these influences, the collective known as Native Bass was formed in 1992.

From recollection it was a crew heavy on American hip-hop influences, on the gangsta tip perhaps. At this stage DLT was on the turntables, leaving after certain ideological problems arose. That could have been it but Danny and growing crew became more focussed, more in tune with their real influences. As rangatahi of Aotearoa they had a destiny, a mission to undertake.

1995 saw the release of ''Horrified One,'' which was the bomb, a detonation of Maori power ("Prototype I saw in Maori mould / catching wreck man you couldn't even catch a cold / It's the horrified one'') and then a year later, “Behold My Kool Style”. 

The music establishment bestowed awards upon them. It was time to reach the next stage, but another year passed until the appearance of “The Son”; a beautiful waiata of optimism and a fitting lead to their album, “Kaupapa Driven Rhymes Uplifted”, which. dare I say, is the most important work to come from Aotearoa since the first Upper Hutt Posse album.

Back at BMG, there's Danny Haimona, Hone Manukau, Bennett Pomana, and Bryson Campbell. Sons of Raukataura, the bringer of music into the world, proud bearers of the gift of "100% Aotearoa hip-hop represent" which Danny points out is blazoned on the official t-shirts. Done in the style of a gang patch, with MC (Microphone Controller) on either side, the t-shirts have led to police hassles.

"Are you fellas in a gang'' asked the cops until things were cleared. "Oh yeah, DLT, Che Fu" replied the cop.

Danny just doesn't stop, he's animated and articulate about things; years of mic battles have toned his whaikorero. I asked about their connection to the Tangata label: "They offered us a platform with no negativity, much love to Tangata. It's a brother thing and they gave us a kick up the ass to get things going. You gotta be real about it, fulfill obligations. But soon as the next moon goes…”

Which means going to a major because success means a lot to Danny. Not in a shallow way, in a relative sense. Success to Danny means security for his family and a wider platform for Dam Native’s ideas. There is a plan for an Australian trip in late September. “Shit, there’s thousands of Maori in Australia, we just want to go there with the whole journey, the stage show, the Dam Native breakers [which includes Megazoid, a legend from 81-82,] and just do it, have all the mad styles going off - but you have to blow up in your backyard before you can venture.”

That has surely happened, but not without consequences. “Success, depends how you look at it. This album has been 6 to 8 years, no, 10 years in the making. There's 15 tracks but 100 didn't make the album. There's been lots of sabotage and misunderstanding, some motherfuckers think we're too Maori! And those are bros, it's just pure insecurity. Like we're supposed to be this out of it useless crew, like we had no props. We’re too negative, should be positive, but negative stuff should be promoted no fake pain, just reality bro. The beast will rear its ugly head.”

Hip Hop as Danny sees it “is the Bob Marley of this generation” not only because of its appeal and popularity, but because it offers a way of looking at the world and finding your place in it. Music helps to bridge the cultural barriers. Each generation of Maori have found reflected voices in certain musical forms and entertainers. 

That old joke about Jimi Hendrix being a Maori isn't that far fetched. Hell, Marley was a Maori, Elvis what is a Maori and so's Freddy Fender. Danny talks fondly about hearing “Wasted Days and Wasted Nights” and the effect this music had on his parents' generation. “Bro, he had the hair, that fro... He had the guitar strum too.”

The only problem with reflective voices is you tend to get lost in them. Danny sees the danger and overdosing on other people's cultures. The allure and trappings of American hiphop can lead to complete personality changes, as is demonstrated when Danny goes into a comedy routine full of ‘wassups’ and hands flying like Busta Rhymes having a heart attack.

They see the total immersion and American R&B via Mai FM as full of cultural imperialism. “Much love to radio stations, except to Mai. As far as kaupapa goes, they are the lowest of the low. There's more Maori music on Max or BFM than Mai.” At this point Bennett, (presenter on TV's Mai Time and very good too) looks a little uncomfortable, but also in agreement.

“Influences are good - Marley, Parliament, Benson, hiphop, just don't take it literally, mould it into your own buzz.” Dam Native, and the emerging Polynesian powers of Lost Tribe and Moizna, do this. As Nas says “the world is yours” and hopefully it'll have a brown face.

New Zealand music has always been presented as white, supported by endless Muttonbirds/Crowded House celebrations for middle class nostalgia a lot of us never had. Danny starts to get into it: “We’re in the arse end of the Dave Dobbyn era, power must filter, the next move will be Polynesian. Dam Native, DLT, Che, Moizna, Lost Tribe, we’re tasting the process, learning how to change things. Look at the Upper Hutt Posse, true originators, without the Posse there wouldn't be Dam Native. Much love to Dean Hapeta, he was the best writer. I always wanted to duel Dean, just on the mic, he was the best. And all those Maori show bands - Prince Tui Teka, Billy T James, were true originators. It's time for Polynesians in power.”

Of course, one of the problems is a confusion over belief systems. Looking out the window, Auckland sprawls, different people see different things. “This culture is designed for the money making men, not the Maori and the lower socioeconomic class. Look out there... how can you own that!” So true, but the social realities are stumbling blocks.

“What have we got to get out of this? There is no pride, no culture. We have a dope culture, A tinnie culture, but for us the CD is our tinnie, our way, our music is like little warrior battles. We will be doing our ancestors a disservice if we don't give it 100%.. Dam Native are giving it a mad go.”

Astute and media savvy, Dam Native work hard - Constant playing at schools, and stores and brilliant use of video. They’ve also got a sponsorship deal from Swanndri (“better than those dumb puffy jacket things”) which seems a natural connection: Aotearoa made music, Aotearoa made clothes. Plus Swanndri has the potential to link itself with hip hop style - a few pictures in The Source and it's payday.

The beer runs out so we decide to go to a friend's place for a fews spots of humi. Danny tells me about hanging with Keith from The Prodigy during the Big Day Out tour, going to hip-hop clubs. “He was just like one of us. It’s just amazing to see how popular they are, it's real good. Sometimes when we were just tripping he would show me some of his moves, he's a hell breaker.” Another person whose success is well deserved is Pauly Fuemana. “I remember him bro, wanting to battle, go for it on the mic … it was funny. That song, I hated that fucking song ‘How Bizarre’. But he's a bro, and much love to him, he's doing it, he's making it.”

Later on Hone, Bryson and Danny start jamming with a guitar and do a great, intense version of “The Son” and the lines “Aotearoa represent kaupapa driven 100% / For the Rangatahi shall never forget / Or you were all fall down with the oppressor” have a distinct Marley infection. Somehow this fits perfectly with Hone’s intense rhyme and Bryson’s soulful vocal. Everything falls into place, the intensity of vision, the ability to focus on the battle ahead, the warm power of whanau, things that contribute to the Dam Native kaupapa. Things that would ensure that sweet smell of success.

Dam Native  - Kaupapa driven rhymes uplifted album cover, 1997

[Fast forward to mid 2000s NZ hiphop is dominating the pop charts and blowing here and making inroads overseas. We even had a dedicated local hiphop magazine, Back2Basics, first launched by Omega B, Ayesha Kee, Mike Young and Adi Dick, and by 2005 it was helmed by DJ Sir-vere with Askew as designer. Here's a column Sir-vere had running from Kerry Buchanan each issue...]

Classic: Kerry Buchanan takes a second look at a classic hiphop album (from Back2Basics magazine, Sep/Oct 2005)


“Have come a long way since the day / now everyone wanna be down with that Dam Native / Horrified one with the real lyrics to uplift our Maori nation.”
“The Horrified One” featuring Termoana Rapley.

It's 1997. Danny Haimona, Hone Manukau, Bennett Pomona and Bryson Campbell represent the Dam Native wanau and their debut album has been released. Beginning as Native Bass in 1992, the crew worked through the multitude of influences that surrounded them. At that time American gangsta styles flourished within their heads. 

Gradually, main man Danny Haimona became aware of who he really was; no, not a Compton gang banger but a Maori man from Island Bay, Wellington. He listened to those around him; DLT and Dean Hapeta from The Upper Hutt Posse and mastercarver George Nuku, who helped him instil in him a sense of who he was; a sense of being Maori.

1995 the single ‘The Horrified One’ hit and we all stood back in awe. Firstly, it sounded damn good. At the time, not a lot of local hiphop had come out. The UHP still represented the pinnacle of hiphop culture (perhaps they still do?) Dam Native was certainly following in their prescient footsteps by making music that reflected their own culture and moving away from American influences.

In an interview with your group back in 1997, Danny was adamant that this was necessary;  that Maori concerns have to come first. “This culture [pakeha culture] is designed for the Money making men, not the Maori and the working class. What have we got to get out of this? there is no pride, no culture. We have a dope culture, and tinnie culture. But for us this CD is our tinnie. Our way. Music is like little warrior battles.”

‘Kaupapa Driven Rhymes Uplifted’ carried immense importance both culturally and musically. Horrified One had lyrics like “Prototype I saw in Maori mold / catching wreck, man you couldn't even get your cold / it’s the horrified 1one”. Strong images of a strong people. 

The second drop ‘Behold My Kool Style’ was perhaps even better. It reflected the ongoing political ramifications of the Treaty and our attitudes to that: being Maori was both a sense of pride and just a fucking cool thing to be. The accompanying video was shot in sepia tones and showed Danny as a warrior that commented on both the past and present struggles. Once again it sounded fantastic, using hiphop as a backdrop to the indigenous thoughts that flowed. Thoughts that didn't get lost in the beat, they became the beat. Hiphop as Maoritanga, as Te Reo Maori.

Next ‘The Son’ hit, with Che Fu adding vocal touches. A waiata of burning optimism, and almost old school Maori show band; emphasising the political and cultural pulse of Dam Native’s heart. Check this “Aotearoa represent, Kaupapa driven rhymes 100% / For the Rangatahi shall never forget / or you will all fall down with the oppressor.” The Bob Marley vibe slid within the pop vocal that rubbed against the hiphop urges, to create a classic Aotearoa vibe. It’s us, baby.

The album contains 15 tracks. The three singles are indeed mighty but they don’t dwarf the beauty and majesty of the other cuts. There is so much to take in: deep lessons in culture emit from ‘Four realms of existence’ and ‘Extremities’. Hiphop virtuosity abounds in ‘Battle styles’ and the consummate ‘No formal training’. For me the killer joint is ‘Revolution’. Swirling as it does, in the complexities of political action and with a deep throb of a beat that carries the serious discussion into sublime reaches.

The album was produced by Zane Lowe and came as a major surprise. Here perhaps, is the best production ever done in Aotearoa; very dark and reeking with an almost transcendental aspect, acoustic-based, and beats reminiscent of A Tribe Called Quest. There is a jazz feel that allows the beat to breathe; slow, relaxed, and groove based. There is nothing flossy about the sound. It doesn't need to be pushed into a complete pop direction and it doesn't collapse into breakbeats or other hiphop cliches. It is what it is, an organic collection of songs that are presented in a mature style, suiting the importance of the subject matter. 

Don't take my word for it. Seek this gem out. Find it, listen to it, and learn from it. Like Upper Hutt Posse, this is the basis of our culture; of hiphop that talks to us; is about us. This is Aotearoa 100%.

LISTEN: Kaupapa Driven Rhymes Uplifted (Youtube album playlist):

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