UNESCO reports Hip Hop Maori Nationalism...

Jurriaan Bendien bendien at tomaatnet.nl
Sat Jul 19 12:02:45 MDT 2003

A Maori warrior claims new territory

Kerry Buchanan, freelance political writer and hip-hop correspondent for
Real Groove magazine.

Te Kupu: words intended to penetrate mainstream society. Dean Hapeta
launched New Zealand's political hip-hop scene by linking the force of Maori
culture with the struggle of black nationalism to fuel consciousness and

"Nigger!" The biker's insult blindsided the eight-year-old boy, shattering
his vision of both Maori and pakeha (white) society in Aotearoa, the
original name of New Zealand. The verbal attack sharpened the boy's
awareness of his society's colour lines. Afterwards, he couldn't stand the
sight of his fellow Maori cast as the peaceful but subordinate native. Nor
could he look up to indigenous gangs in his working-class neighbourhood of
Upper Hutt, outside the capital Wellington. Turning to white society, he
felt oppression. So the boy began to look inward, to imagine a "new
 breed"-proud of his Maori past and committed to a radical break with the
legacy of colonial domination.
Today, at the age of 34, Hapeta will refer to himself as "one bad nigger" in
reference to his hardcore politics as a rapper. Here lies Hapeta's strength
and, for some, his weakness: the ability to weave Maori culture, language
and political demands-from land and fishing rights to economic
equality-within the style and context of black American hip-hop. Indeed
Hapeta and his group Upper Hutt Posse (UHP) have influenced a generation of
hip-hop bands and fans across the country. Before these "warriors" stormed
the stage, Maori music was generally marginalised like an exotic trinket of
the past used in the "ritual" of entertaining tourists. By rapping in their
language and incorporating the sounds, values and history of their people,
Hapeta and like-minded artists shatter stereotypes of what it means to be
Hapeta's political consciousness did not flow from the "cultural awakening"
of the 1970s when the Maori middle-class rediscovered its roots. He followed
the learning curve of the streets, his whakapapa ("the place where one
belongs"). Tuned into the liberation music of Bob Marley, Jamaica's
legendary reggae musician, the songs of resistance rang true in his
disadvantaged neighbourhood, where police confrontations were a rite of
passage. By valourising the history of former slaves and colonised peoples,
the music enabled Hapeta to discover "black outernationality" or the
collective struggles of the oppressed.

The impact of Malcom X
In fact, Hapeta's group UHP began in 1985 by playing reggae inspired by the
political message of Marley, considered a veritable saint. But then a new
set of prophets landed in Aotearoa: U.S. rappers like Afrika Bambaataa and
Grandmaster Flash. Breakdancing and rapping with crews in the street, Hapeta
began mixing a homegrown message with two major ingredients: experience and
inspiration. Landing a job at the Justice Department, he scoured the country
to hear Maori land grievances. The second element flowed from overseas via
The Autobiography of Malcom X.
"The book knocked me out," he says. "It was great inspiration . that pride
in the self and the ability to do something about it." The life of the black
nationalist-a cultural hero for his radical defence of racial pride in the
1950s and 60s-led Hapeta to see himself as a leader with hip-hop as a
movement against racism and a political platform for Maori interests.
Ironically, Hapeta was soon approached by the son of Elijah Muhammad, the
man who banished Malcom X1 from the Nation of Islam, an influential and
controversial black militant group. Touring Aotearoa, Rasul Muhammad invited
Hapeta and his posse to perform in Detroit and meet the Nation's leader,
Minister Louis Farrakhan, whose antisemitic remarks and inflammatory views
on racial separation have sparked heated debate.
In many ways, the trip reflects Hapeta's ongoing dialogue between Maori
culture and African American influences. At first, the balance was tipped
overseas. But with time Hapeta struck an equilibrium. For example, he
recalls that "meeting Farrakhan was like going to the mountain-top." There
was also the thrill of performing in Detroit and New York and even being
interviewed inside Harlem's Apollo Theatre, where nearly all the great
African American musicians have played. Black audiences were apparently
amazed by the fluency and force with which Upper Hutt drew links between
Malcom X and Maori leaders like Hone Heke. Praise in the homeland of hip-hop
helped to legitimize Hapeta's own sense of authenticity.
But back in Aotearoa, the fiery brand of Maori nationalism has fuelled
consciousness and controversy. In particular, his no-compromise stance on
land rights rattles more conciliatory activists and, at times, Polynesian
groups originally from the Pacific Islands of Samoa, Nuie and Tonga. For
example, at a 1990 concert, Polynesian fans told Hapeta "to go home" after
he announced that Aotearoa was the land of the Maori. The same year, Hapeta
successfully sued for defamation the newspaper Auckland Star over claims
that Upper Hutt Posse had barred two pakeha youths from a concert.
Ironically, the political talks peppering Hapeta's shows are generally well
accepted by pakeha audiences.

Inner peace
Today, Hapeta is working as a solo artist under the name Te Kupu (the word)
instead of the former D Word. Two versions of his latest album Ko Te
Matakahi Kupu (or The Words that Penetrate) were released in January: one
entirely in Maori and the other in English. These changes reflect Hapeta's
personal evolution. Before the evils of society appeared to dominate his
work. Now, Hapeta seems to have found an inner peace in his reliance on his
culture. Within the Maori community, he is respected as a political leader
for his dedication to Te Rao (Maori language) and culture. But the warrior
is still alive, staking claims in new territory: mainstream society.
"Promote it [Te Rao], push it into the mainstream. Use its concepts of
caring, social concern as a way of changing attitudes," says Hapeta, who is
pushing for more than just space for his albums in record shops and on radio
stations. His words are intended to penetrate mainstream society.
Hapeta's horizons widen as he travels internationally to check out the local
political platforms of other "conscious rappers" in the UK, for example. "I'
m learning from all struggles, getting out of my skin and [coming] back to
share, as an ambassador for the Maori people." In many ways, this mission
reflects the advice of the great Maori leader, Sir Apirana Ngata. In 1897,
he wrote of the need to harmonize one's conflicting ideas while daring "to
wander in moments of the greatest exaltation and wildest imaginings."

1. Malcom X was fatally shot on February 21, 1965 while addressing his
followers in New York City. Three members of the Nation of Islam were
convicted of the crime.


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