Graham Reid | | 1 min read
In a country which has so many pressing social issues it has always struck me as interesting that reggae -- often the voice of the disenfranchised and dispossessed -- has, in this nation, most often erred to the more gentle and less controversial end of the spectrum.
Perhaps it is emblematic of our country that we prefer "consciousness" reggae rather than the confrontational kind. We really don't want to upset people.
Hikoikoi from Petone fall squarely into the easy loping, consciousness lineage and even in Jah Armour here the lyrics resile from the "troublesome times" to "maybe your rhythm be black, maybe your rhythm be white, but in the end I know we will unite".
Elsewhere however are the injunctions to "be in chains to no one" -- although the corollary is (which would have given David Lange a laugh given he said you can't get people out of bed in this country) there is the observation "it's too hot to work".
So this is consciousness reggae of misty mellowness, and maybe that's no bad thing. Even those who see injustice seem to be almost unnaturally patient in Aotearoa. Better than the alternative perhaps.
What Hikoikoi bring to the table however is a very suave, jazzy and soulful feel and at times you can hear them unwind into an ambient/dub quality where the stressless grooves really do suggest it is too hot to work, let alone much else. The album seems saturated in summer.
Hikoikoi know this style intimately -- there are hints of reggae from right across the spectrum, low dub rumble to horn-supported songs like the woozy winner Children a Delight -- and there is lightness of touch that will doubtless have wide appeal.
Singer Paul Wickham has a lovely yearning quality in places (Jah Armour), vocalist Jessie Moss brings a soul-folk element and pianist James Coyle is a real asset when they approach a kind of old school/Studio One/rock steady feel and he reaches for his inner Monty Alexander to pull out some lovely solo work which winds through the rhythms.
I don't quite get the point of a drum solo during Shameful, but Sudan Sun with its evocative bass and suggestion of Afro-percussion is a real standout as the centrepiece. I could have done with another four minutes of this too-short piece.
Hokoikoi have staked out some interesting territory for themselves (I can think of no other local reggae outfit occupying similarly productive, jazz-influenced terrain) and if their sentiments and style seem to me a little on the lightweight side in these troubling times then maybe that's my problem.
I was expecting something they were never going to be.