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Nesian Mystik’s hip hop rooted in family and community

By Tracey Anderson

Nesian Mystik is one of New Zealand’s hottest new hip-hop groups. A talented group of young men from Grey Lynn, Auckland, they are helping to create a distinctive Polynesian style of hip hop music that focuses on community, family, and staying true to strong values.

With the success of their first album ‘Polysaturated’, Nesian Mystik are currently some of the country’s highest profile musicians. Their single ‘For the People’ won song of the year at the 2003 New Zealand Songwriters Silver Scroll awards and is featured on this summer’s Coca-Cola television commercial. Nesian Mystik were also recognized at the 2003 New Zealand Music Awards and B-Net awards.

The members of Nesian Mystik are Awanui Reeder, Donald McNaulty, David Atai, Junior Rikiau, Feleti Strickson-Pua and DJ Heath Manukau. While all grew up in Auckland, they represent a virtual cross section of the South Pacific. Awanui and Heath are Maori, Feleti is Samoan, Donald is Tongan, and Junior and David have roots in the Cook Islands.

Feleti is son of Presbyterian minister Rev Mua Strickson-Pua. He spoke with Touchstone about some of the influences in Nesian Mystik’s songs, the creative processes the group uses to produce them, and their goals in 2004.

Feleti says Nesian Mystik’s album is inspired by their local community. Grey Lynn is rich in cultural diversity and is largely populated by Pacific Island immigrants. Locals were the group’s first audience and the main source of their creativity.

“We’ve always grown up around diversity, so it’s a natural thing for us. We’re really into our local environment, and really enjoy our local feel. It’s definitely been a massive influence because it’s how we started,” Feleti says. “They were the only ones who gave us an opportunity to perform at all the festivals and stuff.”

The Grey Lynn festival and Pasifika festival are two of the main breaks Nesian Mystik had to gain an audience and perform with respected musicians, such as Che Fu.

Feleti’s connections to the church community have also had a major influence in his life. “All the gospel music and plays and everything through the church have taught us to perform. But also it’s so important to us about message, we’re quite pointed about message.”

Nesian Mystik’s lyrics and expressions range from positive affirmations about what it means to be Polynesian, to more edgy political questioning that counteracts any ideas that hip-hop is directly related to gangs and violence. It has become an important part of Feleti’s life to convey positive social messages through music.

“For me and Awanui, our parents have always been community social workers, so for us we’ve always grown up with community as part of our lives. There are issues that we have come to see and come to learn from and definitely inspire us.”

The creative process Nesian Mystik follows is to discuss a specific topic, and then each guy relates it to his own experiences in his own words.

“We try to come up with topics, and issues to talk about first before we start then we step back to the ‘beat-makers’, our guitarist and our DJ. Like Che Fu, Nesian Mystik have created a sound that combines hard edged hip-hop styles with more relaxed R’n’B and reggae music.

Feleti says of their songs Nesian Mystik’s favourite is ‘Lost Visionz’. It opens with a discussion of cultural heritage and roots with Donald and his mother reflecting on what it means to be Tongan and Polynesian. Rev Mua Strickson-Pua then delivers a passionate speech about his Samoan ancestry “founded on God” and honouring those who paid the price to keep alive the life line between New Zealand and Samoa.

Awanui then creates his own imagery of the New Zealand political history with native birds as his back up singers. His words take us on a journey through the Springbok tours, Bastion Point, and the Treaty of Waitangi.

Feleti then describes his own understanding of the colonisation of Samoa. He tells the story of Auckland and what it feels like to be constantly assumed to be an over-stayer. Junior then takes ‘Lost Visionz’ out with his images of the “brutality and abuse” colonisation creates.

Feleti is modest about his musical ambitions. To create an album and have a career in the music industry have only more recently seemed achievable. With the large exposure Nesian Mystik had in 2003 the main goals for the group in 2004 are to set up the business side of music production and record a new album. They will create a studio of their own to cover extra costs and time management, but also to help other groups just starting out.

“Everything’s going to revolve around the studio. We’ve got our album coming out and we’re supposed to be travelling over to France and Australia.

“We’re sorta trying to relax on the performing side, and get back to the studio. You probably won’t here much from us this year, just with trying to get the album sorted.

“Exposure is good but too much exposure is hard to keep up with. So we’re going to focus on getting some family time, try to get the business side in the right place, and focus on the writing.”