Graham Reid | | 4 min read
“Proud didn't make us, we made Proud”.
The assertive reference was to the 1994 breakthrough album of South Auckland music Proud: An Urban-Pacific Streetsoul Compilation.
The album launched the short career of Sisters Underground with their hit In the Neighbourhood and shone the spotlight on South Auckland artists like MC Slam (Charlie Brown), Semi MC's, Pacifican Descendants and others.
Also on the album were the sardonically named Otara Millionaire's Club with We R the O.M.C.
The group was a launchpad for Fuemana's brother Pauly who, as OMC, would take How Bizarre to the world the following year.
Phil Fuemana -- who died in 2005 – was right.
But that “we” went much further than the accumulation of talent in South Auckland.
The origins of Proud date back to club parties and recordings in Alan Jansson's Uptown Studio in Freeman's Bay, and the Voodoo Rhymes parties of DJ Andy Vann and Chris Bateup.
Simon Grigg -- on whose Huh! label Proud would be released in New Zealand -- recently noted the pivotal role of Australian industry figure Andrew Penhallow: "Alan [Jansson] flew over to Sydney with a few tracks [of other artists he'd been recording] around 1991 and accidentally on the end of one of the tapes was a rough mix of one of the Semi MCs tracks Alan had been working on.
"Andrew said, "I like that, more please... " and Alan told him he was planning an album of similar artists but had no money. On the spot, Andrew offered Alan some money and committed to release the album around the world.
"That allowed Alan Jansson to create what was soon called Proud and it eventually came out on a label they named Second Nature, jointly owned by Alan and Andrew." *
Although money was tight what emerged was that rare conjunction of unvarnished talent, expressive energy and young people with something to say.
Over two years, Jansson kept recording, Phil Fuemana stepped up with tracks he'd recorded and eventually Proud emerged.
Fuemana only played a role in two of 14 songs on the album and considerable credit went to producer Jansson who conceived the album and crafted the sound.
It was music of, and from, South Auckland's streets, a blend of street knowledge and church harmonies, R'n'B and hip-hop. Messages from the sprawling suburbs under the pylons south of central Auckland, a place most knew little about.
In the Neighbourhood – and Greg Semu's accompanying clip of ordinary people in the 'hood – was an unfiltered broadcast into Middle New Zealand's homes, truth with a pop hook: “You don't know me, you haven't seen what I've seen, so you could never really understand what I mean . . .”
Elsewhere, MC Slam clarifies: “Violence on the streets and violence at home, old people unprotected and left alone . . . crime on the increase, cops on the decrease . . . prove me wrong”.
Last year Jansson – who also produced How Bizarre – accepted the Taite Music Prize's Independent Music NZ Classic Record award for Proud.
Released locally on Grigg's Huh! label, Proud – two years in the making – has long been considered a landmark New Zealand album – it is one of Nick Bollinger's 100 Essential New Zealand Albums – but has largely been unavailable for decades.
Now a double vinyl edition remastered by Jansson and overseen by Grigg – one side with two In the Neighbourhood remixes and We R the O.M.C. in a dub mix – Proud appears for the first time on record.
Here was a collection which lived up to its name, was a platform for talent and gave voice to the voiceless. It could have come from nowhere else but Niu Sila.
It closed with Pacific Beats on log drums by Puka Puka and the Vocal Five singing God Defend New Zealand.
In brief liner notes to the reissue DJ Sir-Vere (Phil Bell) says Proud resonated with him and it was all he played for months. He notes In the Neighbourhood felt familiar and other songs – Based on a Lost Cause by Radio Backstab and DJ Playback, Trust Me (Semi MCs) and Pass It Over (Pacifican Descendants) “gave me proper insight into what Pacifican hip-hop and R'n'B should sound like, our own take on the genre”.
That was a blend of street hustle and church harmonies, American R'n'B and hip-hop. It was the urban Pacific soul of, and from, South Auckland's streets, largely rejected by mainstream radio but always recognised as a pivotal and important album by those more attuned to local developments.
Bell singles out We R the O.M.C. which still resonates, Phil Fuemana singing, “this is for my father, this is for our mothers, this is for our brothers, sisters, baby, children too.
“We are the Otara Millionaire's Club and we do it all for you”.
* Sadly Andrew Penhallow, who contributed some liner notes to the vinyl edition of Proud, died in early May before he could see the finished project.
The vinyl edition of Proud: An Urban-Pacific Streetsoul Compilation is available now through Flying Nun
See here for a consideration of the 2021 vinyl reissue of the OMC How Bizarre album.
And here for a review of Simon Grigg's book How Bizarre.
There is a tribute to Pauly Fuemana at Elsewhere here.