Political music has always had something of a weird and inconsistent history in New Zealand. In the words of local music veteran Simon Grigg, we’ve seen it go from “almost nothing, to a flood, to a trickle”. But despite its occasionally patchy past, musical activism is on the rise again. Lately, we’ve watched SWIDT paint a picture of what Onehunga used to be like before it was gentrified; David Dallas takes aim at local media for their xenophobic view on the Auckland housing crisis; and Aaradhna tells us why she’s more than just the colour of her skin.
It’s a new era for protest music in New Zealand and Alien Weaponry are helping to usher it in with their heavy new single ‘Whispers’, which finds them speaking up about the debate over the TPPA and the foreshore and seabed. Talking about these sorts of issues isn’t something that’s new for the three teen thrash metallers from Waipu: they’ve made a name for themselves by writing about New Zealand's bleak colonial past, as they did on ‘Raupatu’ a story about Māori land confiscation in the 1860s.
On ‘Whispers’, they take aim at former prime minister John Key–
He tiriti nā Amerika, John Key te waha mōkai
(The agreement from America, John Key the puppet mouthpiece)
Ehara i te koha, TPPA he tūtae
(This is no gift, the TPPA is a turd)
He hui toropuku, he kōrero huna
(Secret meetings, hidden words)
Nga iwi Māori awere, te Tiriti takahia
(Māori interests excluded, the Treaty [of Waitangi] disregarded)
–and grow more confrontational as the song continues:
Hide away the truth, playing on our fears
The government’s words are like whispers in our ears
The people will find out the truth about our nation
A greedy system that shuts down our voice with legislation
‘Whispers’ isn’t the only song you’ll find wrapped in barbed wire on their just-released debut album Tū, but it’s probably the most notable. The track opens with a sample of Don Brash’s infamous interview with Radio NZ’s Kim Hill from December 2017, where Brash’s umbrage at RNZ’s use of Te Reo Māori during their broadcasts revealed an underlying–and undeniably–racist point of view. “Most Māori have benefited enormously from colonisation,” he said. “Let's face it, pre-1840 Māori were cannibals. They had no written language, they had not invented the wheel, they were a primitive, stone-age society.”
The issue at the heart of the Brash story is one that the band hasn’t shied away from talking about. “I feel like people are a little bit afraid to delve into speaking Māori because they're scared of offending people,” vocalist/guitarist Lewis de Jong said in VICE’s recent documentary on Alien Weaponry. “But I think we need to make it clear that speaking Māori isn't going to offend anyone. It's actually going to help the language. It's actually worse if people don't speak it.”
‘Whispers’ is a powerful rumination on racism in New Zealand today and a statement on the agenda being pushed by those in power, but it could also be seen as an indictment of liberal media. Brash being given a platform to air such racist remarks raised questions at the time and having two Pākehā people discuss the apparent issue of Māori language mostly just revealed how Māori are often left out of their own conversation.
Hip-hop and metal acts aren’t always given the time of day by the higher-ups in the New Zealand music industry–a closer look at our awards finalists will tell you that much—but artists of both genres have continued to use it to voice their concerns over what they see wrong with the world. ‘Live Stream’, the new video from Illbaz, MeloDownz and Raiza Biza, sees the group use imagery from the Palestinian intifadas and other civil rights movements to get their point across. There’s more to come from other corners of the New Zealand music scene too, with new statement albums on the way this year from Tom Scott and Dudley Benson.
There’s risk in speaking out like this, especially for such a young band like Alien Weaponry, whose members aren’t yet old enough to vote. That’s why they fit right in as part of New Zealand’s weird history of political music. A few teenagers from Waipu singing about how messed up the country is? Unlike Don Brash, that seems like something worth actually listening to.
Follow Hussein on Twitter: @hussein4eva
This article originally appeared on Noisey NZ.