Jonathan Milne: Music powerbrokers will be frustrated at musicians' perceived petulance, delighted at the headlines
OPINION: It's the music that unites us. It's the music that divides us.
Over the course of a couple of generations, through reggae, through roots, through dub and through dubstep, New Zealand has carved out its own unique sound. That sound has brought together all kinds of social and political experiences, whether the proponents be struggling Pasifika from south Auckland, frustrated middle class Palagi kids from Wellington, or rebellious Maori youth from Christchurch.
With our own sound, we have been able to tell our own stories – and some of those are stories born from anger.
Before there was Fat Freddy's Drop or the Black Seeds, there was Salmonella Dub, loudly announcing its arrival, quietly building a following around New Zealand and around the world.
While the music was not overtly political, politics followed the band's members. Former frontman Tiki Taane (who reunites with the band for a tour this year) was arrested for singing NWA's rap song F... the Police at a Tauranga Club in 2011. A few months later at the NZ Music Awards, he mocked the police over-reaction by performing with dancers in police uniform.
And it is often the Music Awards, with their big TV and streaming audience, where New Zealand's musical up-and-comers find the opportunity to express their anger at the constraining expectations of a previous generation.
At the Vodafone NZ Music Awards in November last year, Aaradhna Jayantilal Patel gave away her Tui Award for Best Urban/Hip-Hop Artist to Onehunga rap crew SWIDT. She expressed frustration at being pigeonholed in "a category for brown people".
"Ok, so this song, Brown Girl, it speaks on many things. It speaks on racism, it speaks on being placed in a box," the 32-year-old said. "For me, I feel like if I were to accept this award, I'm not being truthful to my song."
The audience, music and PR and media types mostly, loved it. I remember the thrill of excitement that seemed to run through the crowd, as if they too were part of Aaradhna's fight. In truth, it was those people who she was criticising.
Now, Salmonella Dub have refused an offer to join the New Zealand Music Hall of Fame after a clash with this year's NZ Music Award organisers. They were told they could select a band who had influenced them to perform – but the organisers didn't like their selection, post-punk band Beat Rhythm Fashion
The Clean, too, have previously turned down the accolade. "We feel we are outside the industry," said founder Robert Scott, "and in the past we were shunned and dismissed and it seems like by saying yes we would be forgiving the industry for that."
No doubt, with each little ruckus, the music industry's powerbrokers are torn between frustration at the musicians' petulance (as they see it) and delight at the headlines.
But this is where New Zealand's musicians are doing their job. It's an important role of artists to challenge us, to make us think – not just about the music, but about the community in which we live.
And that means acknowledging our disagreements, our divides.
- Sunday Star Times