Exhibit features songs of protest

05:10, May 28 2013
Protest song exhibition - Thomasin Sleigh
STOP, LOOK AND LISTEN: Thomasin Sleigh takes a look and listen at a new exhibition at the National Library.

From the Springbok Tour to the Urewera raids, outrage often has a catchy tune.

Now New Zealand’s ‘‘protest’’ songs have been brought together for the first time in a new exhibition at the the Alexander Turnbull Library in Wellington.

The audio-visual exhibition opened yesterday, with about 60 songs railing against everything nuclear testing to Maori land confiscations.

The songs are accessed through five tablets and exhibition spaces, each focusing on a different protest movement.

Exhibition curator Matt Steindl said the protest movement had spawned some of New Zealand’s best known tunes, but the link had received little recognition.

‘‘It doesn’t get a lot of attention but it comes with a lot of heart and soul and covers a lot of genres and eras.’’


New Zealand’s first protest songs borrowed heavily from the United States, taking American folks tunes of 1950s and 60s and giving the lyrics a Kiwi twist, he said.

But since then it had evolved in every direction, with reggae, hip-hop and punk all recruited in the name of protest.

‘‘It becomes a way of expressing what you feel without necessary yelling and getting confrontational.’’

Searching through the National Library Archives, Mr Steindl even found an original recording of what he considers New Zealand’s first protest song.

The Howard Morrison Quartet’s adaptation My Old Man’s an All Black focused on how Maori All Blacks were not able to tour in Apartheid South Africa.

By today’s standards, the lyrics are quite tame but the song was banned by some radio station when it was released in 1960.

Other well-known protest songs fell into their role by accident, with John Hanlon’s Damn the Dam starting life as advertising jingle for Pink Batts.

The song was later recruited by the campaign to oppose the Manapouri Lake Dam, the worthy cause of Pink Batts forgotten.

But while the exhibition has a range of music, Mr Steindl said some genres lend themselves to protest better than others.

‘‘Pop music tends to be a bit light. There is not much metal either.’’

* Revolting! The Sound of Protest in Aotearoa runs till July 20 at the Turnbull Gallery in National Library of New Zealand on Molesworth St.


Damn the Dam - John Hanlon, 1973

The song was adopted by the campaign against damming Lake Manapouri but started life as radio jingle for Pink Batts. At the time New Zealand Fibreglass was pushing for better home insulation over greater power supply.

My Old Man’s an All Black - The Howard Morrison Quartet, 1960

The song, an adaptation of another song popular at the time, My Old Man’s a Dustman, parodied how Maori All Blacks were not allowed to tour Apartheid South Africa. It was banned by some radio stations.

There is No Depression in New Zealand - Blam Blam Blam, 1981

The song poked fun at the social policies of Muldoon Government but, partly due to the timing of its release, also became strongly associated with protest movement against the 1981 Springboks tour.

E Tu - Upper Hutt Posse, 1988

Considered by some to be New Zealand’s first rap song, the song was critical against a systemic injustice against Maori and encouraged the younger generation to stand up for their rights. The song was re-released in te reo in 2002.

Freedom to Sing - Tiki Taane featuring Michael Franti, 2012

The song was part of the Conscious Uprising compilation album released last year to raise money for Tame Iti and Te Rangikaiwhiria Kemara’s legal defence against firearm charges laid in the wake of the Urewera raids. Upper Hutt Posse also featured on the album.

The Dominion Post