Myele Manzanza: New Zealand Music Aesthetics

Except for the reformation of Trinity Roots and what a handful of other New Zealand music artists like Myele Manzanza, Fat Freddys Drop, Electric Wire Hustle and Ladi 6 are up to, these days I’m more out of touch with New Zealand’s music scene than I used to be.

Trinity Roots live concert Australia 2015

Trinity Roots: Citizen Tour 2015

The Sound

When I was on the pulse during the past decade and more, I always thought Aotearoa (New Zealand) was a musical gem undiscovered (to their loss) by most of the world beyond Australia.

For small South Pacific islands distant from so much of the world, there seemed to be a disproportionately high number of New Zealand music artists blending flavours of soul, jazz, reggae and beats to create chilled, spacious, smooth, feel-right music with an inexplicably distinctive (and unique) New Zealand sound. I couldn’t work it out except to guess that its stunningly dominant natural environment played some part.

Myele Manzanza on The Sounds

During my recent interview with “afro-elastic soul” artist Myele Manzanza, I asked him about that sound; and to share any home-grown insights into the evolution of New Zealand music throughout his lifetime – which included years of drumming and composing with Electric Wire Hustle and working on numerous solo and collaborative projects with fellow New Zealand (and international) artists.  

Check out Myele’s response with sample sounds from some of the players in that musical evolution…

Myele Manzanza & The Eclectic live at WOMADelaide 2015

Myele Manzanza: .

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“New Zealand music out to a wider world audience”

“I think as far as the era of New Zealand music you’re referring to, in order for that to happen, I guess the thing that really broke down the door was Fat Freddys Drop – as far as getting New Zealand music out to a wider world audience. I have to take my hat off to them because of what they did and the level they did it at. I don’t think anyone of that era has gotten to the level of where Fat Freddys Drop got to.

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“a new vanguard”

You could maybe throw in Lorde, who’s stupendously big. She’s of a new vanguard/league/generation. Her success is incredible. There must be some element of influence of what’s happened in New Zealand music over the past 10 years on what Lorde does, but I don’t really bring her into this era of New Zealand music that you’re referring to. Even though it’s beats and soul, its a different thing.

“that sound”

As far as to how Ladi 6, Electric Wire Hustle or Fat Freddys Drop got here and got to that sound…when I was 14 or 15, Trinity Roots and The Black Seeds were coming to prominence (Trinity Roots reached their peak and then disbanded for some time). The Black Seeds and Fat Freddys Drop were still on their scent, but were in the community so I kind of grew up around that sound.

It might also trace back to Che Fu – he had a very big impact.

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Trinity Roots- ‘Egos’ – Home, Land and Sea (2004)

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Fat Freddys Drop- ‘Roady (feat. Ladi 6 & P Digsss)’ – Based On A True Story (2005)

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Ladi 6- ‘Walk Right Up’ – Time Is Not Much (2008)

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Che Fu- ‘Fade-Away’ – Navigator (2002)

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“Once Bob Marley hit…”

There’s obviously a very big reggae thing in New Zealand.

Once Bob Marley hit, and I think he performed in New Zealand in the early 80‘s [1979], that was a big cultural turning point; a. because his influence was so big anyway, but; b. when he came and performed he really got to know the local culture. I think there was a connection for him too because Waitangi Day (the day a treaty of agreement was signed between Maoris and the colonial population) is on 6 February which also happened to be Bob Marley’s birthday.

For whatever reason, and particular Maori and Pacific Island culture in New Zealand, people were very much drawn to Bob Marley, his message and his sound.

Bob Marley & The Wailers - Natural Mystic Vinyl - Tuff Gong Studios, Jamaica

Maybe there’s an ‘island thing’ too where the geography relates to the style. There’s something that can be related there and got taken up. There’s a reggae thing that’s been happening in New Zealand music for decades now. Trinity Roots and Fat Freddys Drop came out of that but they also had their jazz, soul, electro, dub and techno influences.

“the J Dilla-thing in New Zealand music”

It might be fair to say that whilst Electric Wire Hustle had those same influences, [we] were maybe the first to champion the J Dilla-thing in New Zealand music; that rhythmic aesthetic; that sound and style of contemporary left-field hip-hop/soul instrumentals. We latched onto that, and it might have given us a point of difference. Ladi 6 was in there as well. So were a number of other artists. Isaac Aesili –  part of a group now called Sorceress (previously called Funkommunity) was very much in that scene.

It’s interesting thinking about that timeline and the history of that – and will be interesting to see what happens next.

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Electric Wire Hustle- ‘This World (Feat. Georgia Anne Muldrow)’ – Electric Wire Hustle (2009)

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“what happens next”

Obviously Lorde is the now. It’s undeniable that whatever will come after Lorde in mainstream New Zealand music will be largely influenced by her.

But for me I think my next step is maybe taking those influences but maybe going further into the jazz thing. By “jazz” I mean improvised music that’s fluid and can move and shift as performed in the moment in real time, as opposed to pre-programmed drum machine stuff.

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Myele Manzanza- ‘Elvin’s Brew’ – One (2013)

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Even though that’s very much a big part of what I do, what I think I’ll be working on over the next few years of my life will be a synthesis of that – finding my line between the programmed electronic-thing and the improvised jazz/soul, real person, real time-thing and trying to make that my sound.

As far as where the rest of New Zealand music is headed, only time will tell.”

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More of The Sound

Start here if you want to check out more sounds and images of Myele Manzanza, The Eclectic and other Aotearoa New Zealand artists:

Myele Manzanza & The Eclectic (including father Sam Manzanza and Aotearoan soul divas Rachel Fraser & Lisa Tomlins) performing live at WOMADelaide 2015 last month…

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…or click the artist’s name for more live videos, photos and sample tracks by Myele Manzanza, Trinity Roots, Fat Freddys Drop and Electric Wire Hustle.

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…and stay tuned, because there’ll always be more New Zealand music artists added to Beaver’s world.

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