And a Critique of Dean Hapata's Hip Hop Maori Nationalism in Aotearoa/New Zealand

Jurriaan Bendien bendien at
Sat Jul 19 12:19:04 MDT 2003

Word to the people (New Zealand Herald)

29.01.2000 - By GRAHAM REID


Dean Hapeta, of Upper Hutt Posse, has always aimed for more than bragging
and a catchy hook. He's styled himself D-Word and done spoken-word
performances. His new nom de disque is Te Kupu (aka the Word). I guess that
all confirms it: Word values the power of the word. As the volatile founder
of the Upper Hutt Posse - sometimes favouring some of Louis Farrakahn's
racist Nation of Islam philosophies but a sincere advocate for Maori
nationalism and self-determination - Hapeta has made some of the most
challenging, uncompromising and, unfortunately, most overlooked music in
this country. The Posse"s Movement In Demand album of 95 was firebrand stuff
couched in an appealing conjunction of his musical past: reggae, hip-hop and
rap. His new album - as Te Kupu - is Ko Te Matakahi Kupu (Kia
Kaha/Universal). Launched on January 1, it appropriately comes in two
versions: te reo and English language - although Hapeta pointedly keeps the
Maori title (The Word Which Penetrates) for both.

Again, it's a highly personal confluence of diluted Rasta righteousness rant
and Maori nationalism, plus personal history, Old Testament tropes, some Lee
Perry-styled ragga assertion and kapa haka. Say what you will about its
flinty politics, you'll have heard nothing like it before out of this
country. Unless it came from Hapeta. This is the artist as agent provocateur
and a manifesto delivered as a hip-hop concept album. It suffers the same
failings as Movement in Demand: the words trip over themselves and
ultimately dilute the messages. And the indignation works within a narrow
emotional frame. Sometimes it falls into wordspinning for it's own sake
("what is it constant in our character, resisting perpetration," defies
analysis) and the concept hardly offers itself up easily. Some will find the
faux Rasta accents, seemingly contradictory principles ("fite for peace"),
and relentless irascibleness little more than empty posturing. But time
spent is time rewarded. Built over beds of evocative reggae, with some Miles
Davis-styled trumpet from Geoff Murphy (yes, the former Blerta now
film-maker one), seductive guitar, snappy scratching and memorable Te Kupu
outbursts, it often provides compelling if complex arguments for its many
political flashpoints

Like most polemicists, Hapeta doesn't doubt his "truth," and in that it
suffers the same old failings of politicised music: the leavening out of
nuance and recognition of other viewpoints. But he's not engaged in a
debate, and in it's indignation and commanding injunctions to get up, stand
up for what he sees as the inalienable rights of a culture oppressed, Ko Te
Matakahi Kupu is hard to turn away from. Because it aims for more it is
inevitable it's failings will be more apparent. But given the breadth and
knottiness of the manifesto, Te Kupu's ambition and the singularity of the
vision, it demands to be heard. The Russian poet and propagandist Vladimir
Mayakovsky observed, "Art is not a mirror to reflect the world, but a hammer
with which to shape it." The question Ko Te Matakahi Kupu asks is whether
you want to be Te Kupu's anvil. country. The Posse's Movement in Demand
album of 95 was firebrand stuff couched in an appealing conjunction of his
musical past: reggae, hip-hop and rap.


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