Herbs honoured

17:00, Sep 25 2012
BIG NIGHT: Herbs members arrive at the APRA Silver Scroll Awards. The band was inducted into the New Zealand Music Hall of Fame after 33 years in the industry.

Herbs started out as a handful of musicians playing gigs around Ponsonby.

They spiced up the Kiwi music scene with songs that reflected their surroundings and the political climate of the 80s and 90s.

The band was inducted into the New Zealand Music Hall of Fame earlier this month at the APRA Silver Scroll Awards at Auckland's Town Hall.

MUSIC LEGEND: Herbs’ percussionist and vocalist Thom Nepia at home in Glen Innes.

As a "young fulla" from Tamaki College Thom Nepia never thought he would one day tour the world with Herbs and perform in front of a sea of fans.

Mr Nepia toured with comedian Billy T James before his cousin, Herbs founder Dilworth Karaka, asked him to join the band in 1985.

"I was in the crowd when the brothers opened for Stevie Wonder at Western Springs in 1981. I didn't think that I'd be up there with them some day.


"My first show was with Tina Turner at Mt Smart Stadium in front of 20,000 people. I came from riding my push bike around the streets of Glen Innes to performing on stage with Tina Turner. It blew my mind."

A thousand supporters turned out to honour fellow East Auckland bandmates Morrie Watene and the late Charles Tumahai from Ngati Whatua o Orakei on home soil at Orakei Marae on September 15.

"It was amazing. So many unsung heroes came and it was a good opportunity to thank them for their contribution to our success. We remembered Charles who brought his international experience to the band and took it to another level."

Mr Karaka also grew up in Glen Innes and the band would often rehearse in his back yard, Mr Nepia says.

They found a captive audience during politically turbulent times and became involved in demonstrations including the Bastion Point occupation and anti-Springbok tour protests.

Herbs' debut EP Whats' Be Happen? was released in 1981 and featured an aerial shot of the Bastion Point eviction on the cover.

"Those causes were very important to us. Especially Dilworth, he and his family went down there and were on the front line too. It was important to us to keep our music happy, but with a strong meaning which I think is lacking in some of the music today. We weren't singing about dancing and parties. We kept our feet on the ground and our whanau close," Mr Nepia says.

Members came and left and Mr Nepia moved from drummer to main vocalist.

He took time off to study music and returned in 1995 to feature on the track French Letter which challenged the French government to stop nuclear testing in the Pacific.

Their music also captured global attention and Nelson Mandela asked to meet the band when he visited New Zealand that year.

"It was such an honour, who'd have thought little Maori boys who made music would meet a man who'd made such an impact on the world?

"It's been a hard and long road but there's nothing I'd rather be doing than making music. We're all getting old and grey and when we get together I always say: ‘I hope you've got some kids so they can take our place'. They have to fly the Herbs flag and carry on the music and the values," Mr Nepia says.

Seventeen of the Herbs collected the Hall of Fame honour on the awards night before leading the crowd in a version of their song E Papa.

Click here to check out some of Herbs' performances.

East And Bays Courier