Review Summary: World famous in New Zealand but unknown to the world. A blessing or a hindrance?
Longtime Salmonella Dub frontman Tiki Taane cut his teeth on the New Zealand music scene back in 1997 with Salmonella Dub's album "Calming of the Drunken Monkey". Over the past 15 years, Salmonella Dub cemented themselves as New Zealand's favourite dub band and Tiki Taane became New Zealand music's go-to man.
Already a well established MC with Salmonella Dub, he soon found himself as the live producer for the mighty Shapeshifter as well as collaborating with the cream of NZ music's crop from Trinity Roots to Hollie Smith.
With his first solo album, Tiki has managed to craft an album that, while not groundbreaking, is a uniquely "Kiwi" take on a broad range of topics specifically zeroing in on Maori culture in 21st century New Zealand. As a proud Maori himself, Tiki sees an opportunity to reach out to troubled Maori through his music, just as music saved him from a life of crime, violence and gangs. More on that later.
What sets this album apart from it's contemporaries though, is the use of traditional Maori instruments native only to New Zealand. Nowhere else will you hear the ominous sounding 'Purerehua'
the hypnotizing lull of the 'Hue Puruhau'
or the wailing of the 'Putatara'
. Each of these instruments play a large part to adding atmosphere in songs such as “Tangaroa”
, "Past, Present, Future
and “Tainui Waka”
. All instruments are performed by Tiki himself too, which adds another string to his bow.
The majority of the songs on here are largely accessible, as made evident by songs such as the super catchy hip-hop of "Faded"
and the pop single "Always on My Mind"
which is officially New Zealand's highest selling single of all time. On “Past Present Future”, Tiki has also stayed true to his dub roots, serving up a colorful mish-mash of dub/rock/hip-hop. As a pioneer of dub in New Zealand, the dub element on this album is the real mccoy, not just some novelty sound tacked on for the hell of it.
sets the tone for the album. Tangaroa translates to ‘God of the Sea’
in Maori and features the use of the 'Purerehua'
instrument. The best way that I can explain the sound of the ‘Purerehua’
is to imagine this; a swarm of a thousand angry bees caught up in a twister storm. It's a genuinely intimidating sound. How does this instrument work you ask? Quite simple really, they are blade-like and swing on a long cord, producing a loud, deep whirring that can be heard from a distance. Native Maori used the instrument for purposes such as luring lizards, warning of oncoming rain, and several being played together in unison at a funeral.
Unfortunately though, the album version of "Tangaroa"
doesn't do the song full justice. The power of the song feels like it's lost in translation on the album, whereas the live version floating around on youtube is a whole different beast. Complete with a 40 man Haka (Maori war dance) and thunderous drumming, the live version of "Tangaroa"
makes the album version sound like Justin Bieber. It’s so fearful it’d scare the pimples off a teenager.
After a couple of meandering tracks in “Now This Is It”
and “Our Favourite Target”
, the album regains it’s focus in the middle stanza with the trio of "Faded", "Saviour"
and "Always on my Mind"
, Tiki sings a duet with longtime friend and Shapeshifter frontman P-Diggss and the chemistry between the two men is what makes the song. It's a simple upbeat song with a dancehall beat, and the lyrics are about the two men re-tracing their musical steps from their humble beginnings;
“But we can never forget so let us back-pedal”
1991 when were making Heavy Metal"
We've come a long way to get where we are today
Through stormy weather together, our troubles they gonna fade away
And leave it to P-Diggss to sing the outro;
“Let it fade away, let it fade away”
Sometimes the calm before the storm,
It is the hardest part to weather
Let it wash over you like water, let it fade away"
is a mish-mash of jungle, reggae, and electro dub and has a nice uptempo beat to it. What makes this song though is the Salmonella Dub style horns that are harmonised so cleverly with Tiki's vocals. It’s essentially a Salmonella Dub on speed. Though I often wonder why Tiki needs to repeat the word "Katchafire" ad nauseum (an obvious reference to Bob Marley). It's a solid song nonetheless and a personal favourite.
"Always on my Mind"
is the most accessible song on here and it's New Zealand's highest selling single of all time. It's an all-acoustic song with a simple melody, sing-along lyrics and just a chilled out vibe. It would appeal to anyone, be they 10 years old or 80 years old. You’ll either love it, or you’ll skip it.
picks up the pace from the previous track, and it’s another strong track with a diverse range of styles. One of Tiki’s strengths is his ability to fuse different genres together and sound comfortable while doing it. On Wotcha Got, Tiki collaborates with P-Money (NZ hip-hop) and Evan Short (Concord Dawn) on electric guitar. Hip Hop? Metal guitaring? Count me in baby.
On ”Music Has Saved Me”
Tiki reflects on how, well, music saved him. Not to be taken literally, but in a more metaphorical sense. It’s message is zeroed in on youth in New Zealand, specifically Maori youth. Gangs, drugs, crime, violence is transcendental to any country, and the message is simply get off the streets, do something with your life. Tiki had a choice, just as we all do, and he chose to follow the lifestyle of music instead of gangs and crime. Whatever his intentions, this song is musically one of the weakest on the album. Unfortunately, Tiki pigeonholed himself into that “Americanised” hip hop sound, and any emotional weight the song had is diminished because of it. He’s far better than that.
Ironically, it’s the song with no specific lyrics that carries the most emotional weight on the album. Title track “Past, Present, Future”
is the hymn to the god of the sea, Tangaroa. The song features an old voice recording of Tiki’s grandmother, bathed in reverb, singing, almost wailing. It’s accompanied by some surreal guitars and strings and slowly fades into “It’s All In Your Head”
a slow-burning track featuring some lush strings, a Massive Attack inspired bass line and female vocals. It sounds almost like The Gathering
crossed with Massive Attack
The final track “Tainui Waka”
continues the Maori theme from “Tangaroa”
and the title track and ends the album on a high note. It features the beautiful “Putatara”
instrument, a hollowed out seashell played similar to an ocarina. It was used in Maori folklore to pacify the god of the sea. Sounds of the ocean are combined with some weird sounding acoustic guitar. It settles into a hypnotic dub beat, swaying like a pendulum in the breeze.The track was inspired by a vision Taane had while sitting on the beach while he was on a spiritual journey to Rarotonga.
As the final note of “Tainui Waka”
rings, there’s suddenly a sense of realisation of what you’ve just listened to. Tiki has poured his every emotion into making this album, and taken as a whole, the album is a success. Sure, there’s speed bumps along the way, and that's to be expected. But it’s the Maori culture, so deeply ingrained within Tiki’s music that is the key to this album. It’s the glue that holds it together. For the casual listener, this aspect may be lost upon them and could be put off by the cultural element, which is a shame because Tiki Taane's music has a lot to offer.
At the very least, swing by youtube and check the video of the live version of "Tangaroa"
and judge for yourself.