In the World of Light
Touring Qld, NSW & Vic: May 19-28
Interview by Mat Ward
Chart-topping New Zealand musician Tiki Taane became an unlikely poster boy for free speech on April 9 when he was escorted from his own gig in handcuffs.
His arrest was for singing NWA’s “Fuck tha Police” during a routine police check of the concert in the seaside town of Tauranga. He was charged with disorderly behaviour likely to cause violence.
“That song is just a song,” Taane told TVNZ. “This whole thing is ridiculous and it’s just unfortunate that one police officer took offence and wanted to make a point.”
His fellow musicians have rallied to support Taane. He has no shortage of friends in the music world and name-checks nearly 30 artists on the soaring, speeding, sun-soaked anthem that opens his latest album, In the World of Light.
But more remarkable than the sheer number of names spat between the breezy bass and breakbeats is the fact he’s worked with most, if not all of them.
“Back in the day, there wasn’t much support for local artists and most New Zealanders looked to overseas acts for their musical fix,” Taane tells Green Left Weekly.
“But nowadays, our music and art is being supported and celebrated. New Zealanders are listening to, buying and supporting homegrown music, which in turn creates a healthy local music culture.”
Kiwis are known for their love of big, bad, bass — and the quality is usually world-class.
It’s a bottom-heavy sound that has followed Taane throughout his career, from his early days with rumbling metallers Braaspadeak and his time fronting chart-topping roots rockers Salmonella Dub, to his present solo work as a dubstep destroyer.
Surprising, then, that his biggest hit so far is “Always On My Mind”, a sweetly sung sonnet from his first solo album that features just him and his guitar.
On its release, it became the biggest-selling New Zealand single of all time.
Listeners can expect more of Taane’s lighter side when he puts out an album of acoustic songs at the end of this year. But In The World of Light is all about deep, dark bass.
“I just felt in my heart that I needed to break my music up stylistically, as it wasn’t sitting well musically when I put it all together,” says Taane, who has won critical praise for the improved cohesion of his new album.
“I also like the idea of releasing two albums in one year and both being completely different.”
Australians will get to see the two sides of Taane when he tours the east coast in May. At each gig he will play an acoustic set before the venue morphs into a club, with Taane emceeing over music from pioneering New Zealand dubsteppers Optymus Gryme.
The group recently released the face-melting bass belter “If Ya With Me” with Taane. The violent, expletive-laden track is the logical successor to “Don’t Tell Me”, his award-winning, hammering collaboration with the Kiwi kings of the jungle, Concord Dawn.
Taane’s ability to flip from bamboozling brutality to breathtaking beauty recalls the scene in Once Were Warriors where Jake “the Muss” Heke goes from caving someone's head in to strumming his guitar cheerily along with his mates.
Taane says he is not really sure how much of this dichotomy reflects his Maori heritage.
“I do, however, often draw inspiration from being Maori, in that I use that knowledge and Mauri [the life force that all objects contain] to create art.”
Taane is quick to recognise the parallels between Maori and Indigenous people in Australia.
“When you break it down, the struggle seems to be the same in any colonised country,” he says.
Taane is of Ngati Maniapoto descent and represents his culture strongly in his art, from his music to a recently-launched clothing line that has been expanded to include a range of "Love the Police" T-shirts.
British grime label Boy Better Know says it now stays afloat only through T-shirt sales. Was it a loss of revenue through illegal downloading that led Taane down the same path?
“Not at all,” he says. “I’m doing fine in the music department as I own all my music, my record label and publishing.
“I just wanted to make some dope T-shirts to align with the music, and I’ve been lucky enough to have had some amazing artists draw me up incredible art, perfect for T-shirts.”
Taane also represents his culture through traditional sounds and lyrics sung in te reo, the Maori language. But like many Maori, he didn’t get the most encouraging start.
“I wish I was taught Maori when I was at school, instead of Japanese or French,” he says.
In 2009, anti-whaling group the Sea Shepherd played Taane’s song about the Maori god of the sea, Tangaroa, through 9000 watt speakers on the Ady Gil speedboat as it approached Japanese whalers.
The effect was like having the All Blacks powering towards the Japanese with a humungous haka.
“I had met [skipper] Pete Bethune when he was building the Ady Gil,” says Taane. “I played at the launch of that boat about 2006. I have always been supportive of Pete and his missions, so I was stoked when he blasted whalers with our track.
“My Dad and I wrote Tangaroa together and that will always be the song that brought us closer together as father and son."
Taane's father also appears on the new album, on the haunting track Kaitiaki.
“Kaitiaki means guardian or caregiver and that track is about how we are responsible for ourselves, each other and our world,” says Taane, who credits his father for saving him from a life of crime when he gave the teenaged Taane a guitar.
“My whanau [family] are the foundation behind everything I do and I wouldn’t be where I am without them," he says.
But Taane’s musical family is also a source of huge strength. In The World of Light features collaborations with dubstep dons Truth, Optimus Gryme, Bulletproof and Crushington, drum ’n’ bass maestros Concord Dawn, Sambora and DUBXL, as well as the vocal talents of Moana Maniapoto and chart-topping soulstress Hollie Smith.
However, perhaps his biggest coup is his Spanish-language, low-slung reggaeton collaboration with Spanish film and music superstar Bebe.
“Bebe saw me play in New Zealand when she was on holiday from Spain and wanted me to remix one of her tunes,” says Taane. “I didn’t realise she was a Spanish superstar until I Googled her. That girl is so awesome.”
And he has a message for downloaders: “If you want to know what she’s singing about, buy the CD and check the lyrics out, she’s very cheeky.”
The light side of Tiki Taane - performing “Starship Lullaby“ and "Always On My Mind" with his son at the New Zealander of the Year Awards 2011.
The dark side of Tiki Taane - the award-winning “Don't Tell Me” with Concord Dawn.