Te Kupu: Ko Te Matakahi Kupu (Kia Kaha)

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Te Kupu: Ko Te Matakahi Kupu (Kia Kaha)

Dean Hapeta, of Upper Hutt Posse, always aimed for more than bragging and a catchy hook. He styled himself D-Word and has done spoken-word performances. His new nom de disque is Te Kupu (aka the Word). I guess that all confirms it: Word values the power of the word.

As the volatile founder of the Upper Hutt Posse - sometimes favouring some of Louis Farrakahn's racist Nation of Islam philosophies but a sincere advocate for Maori nationalism and self-determination - Hapeta has made some of the most challenging, uncompromising and, unfortunately, most overlooked music in this country.

The Posse's Movement in Demand album of '95 was firebrand stuff couched in an appealing conjunction of his musical past: reggae, hip-hop and rap.

His new album - as Te Kupu - is Ko Te Matakahi Kupu. Launched on January 1, it appropriately comes in two versions: te reo and English language - although Hapeta pointedly keeps the Maori title (The Word Which Penetrates) for both.

Again, it's a highly personal confluence of diluted Rasta righteousness rant and Maori nationalism, plus personal history, Old Testament tropes, some Lee Perry-styled ragga assertion and kapa haka.

Say what you will about its flinty politics, you'll have heard nothing like it before out of this country. Unless it came from Hapeta.

This is the artist as agent provocateur and a manifesto delivered as a hip-hop concept album.

It suffers the same failings as Movement in Demand: the words trip over themselves and ultimately dilute the messages. And the indignation works within a narrow emotional frame.

Sometimes it falls into wordspinning for it's own sake ("what is it constant in our character, resisting perpetration," defies analysis) and the concept hardly offers itself up easily. Some will find the faux Rasta accents, seemingly contradictory principles ("fite for peace"), and relentless irascibleness little more than empty posturing. But time spent is time rewarded.

Built over beds of evocative reggae, with some Miles Davis-styled trumpet from Geoff Murphy (yes, the former Blerta now film-maker one), seductive guitar, snappy scratching and memorable Te Kupu outbursts, it often provides compelling if complex arguments for its many political flashpoints.

Like most polemicists, Hapeta doesn't doubt his "truth," and in that it suffers the same old failings of politicised music: the leavening out of nuance and recognition of other viewpoints.

But he's not engaged in a debate, and in it's indignation and commanding injunctions to get up, stand up for what he sees as the inalienable rights of a culture oppressed, Ko Te Matakahi Kupu is hard to turn away from. Because it aims for more it is inevitable it's failings will be more apparent.

But given the breadth and knottiness of the manifesto, Te Kupu's ambition and the singularity of the vision, it demands to be heard.

The Russian poet and propagandist Vladimir Mayakovsky observed, "Art is not a mirror to reflect the world, but a hammer with which to shape it."

The question Ko Te Matakahi Kupu asks is whether you want to be Te Kupu's anvil.

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