"I left school and started my band when I was 14. The first thing I started playing was heavy metal and slash metal, so I learnt how to rock out at an early age."
There's no Tiki Taane on the other end of the phone when there should be. After being told to “hang on the line while we fetch Tiki”, the call has dropped into that dreaded limbo region, with some heavy breathing (origin unknown) the only sound emanating down the line. Then… nothing. The line is cut and Taane is nowhere to be found, save a few minutes later when a breathless voice announces, “Ok! We've got him!” Suddenly, bounding down the line comes Taane's thick Kiwi accent, “Hey! How are ya!”
Tiki Taane is somewhat of a national hero in his home town of New Zealand, with his acoustic reggae drenched tune Always On My Mind sitting the NZ charts for a record 55 weeks. But it's a title Taane is loathe to fully embrace. “There are a few people who aren't too happy with me over there, especially when I started mucking around with the police,” he laughs.
The whole 'mucking around with the police' thing he's referring to saw Taane arrested in 2011 and charged with disorderly behaviour after chanting, “fuck the police” during a gig. Taane, however, claimed he was singing lyrics from NWA's Fuck Tha Police. “Originally, it was really gnarly,” Taane sighs. “But, the cool thing was it actually raised a good topic of freedom of speech in this country.” Hero? No. Freedom Fighter? Perhaps, with the incident doing little to diminish Taane's popularity in his hometown. The affable Kiwi took the path less travelled to stardom, starting out as sound engineer before eventually being promoted to lead singer.
“Yeah…” Taane begins, “I left school and started my band when I was 14. The first thing I started playing was heavy metal and slash metal, so I learnt how to rock out at an early age. I realised that if I wanted to make a living out of this, I needed to do other things, so I learnt how to mix smash bands and that's when Salmonella Dub picked me up as their sound guy.”
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Salmonella Dub broke new ground in New Zealand and are credited with introducing a new kind of hybrid sound that meshed reggae, hip hop, dub and drum'n'bass with rock. They formed in 1992 with Taane joining four years later as their sound engineer, but it wasn't long before he ended up fronting the group. “I wrote a song with those guys [Salmonella Dub] and the song did really well,” Taane says matter-of-factly. “They encouraged me to write more songs, which I did and then eventually I was the frontman of the band. It was something that all happened really naturally.”
But soon Taane got restless and craved a kind of creative freedom that some artists can struggle to keep alive in a group or band environment. Unlike most singers who err away from discussing their previous incarnation as a 'band member', Taane is forthcoming and surprisingly candid about his decision to make the cut. “Yeah,” he begins cheerfully, “it had been on my mind for a while and it actually took about two years to make that move. For me, it was a lot of things, but the main thing was creativity – there were just so many things that I just wanted to get out of me that I couldn't really do in the band,” he sighs, adding that “breaking away was an organic thing to do and allowed me to go back to my roots”.
Taane's familial influences are evident in every element of his rebirth as a soloist. “When I left the band, I pulled in my family,” says Taane. “To this day, my sister still manages my company, my other sister manages my merchandise and even my son, who's now four, has been part of a lot of things I've done. It's all very organic and family orientated.”
Culturally, says Taane, his family are vital to ensuring he honours his Maori roots. “There's a lot of stuff that I'm unaware of – culturally – that I need guidance in,” Taane adds. “Having my family there helps me 'cause they'll say stuff like, 'This is great, but if you're gonna talk about this issue in your tune then you need to be careful', 'cause there is a lot of cultural stuff that I tap into, there's a lot of weight to it and I want to make sure I'm getting it right. To get it right, I need to have that guidance from elders,” says Taane.
Somehow, Taane has managed to bridge the gap between cultures, with his music reaching far and wide and affecting not only those with a similar cultural background to him, but also to those who grew up in a more Westernised culture, giving him, quite literally, the best of both worlds.
“I've always wanted to be the point that bridges the gap between my culture and others,” stresses Taane. “See, I'm trying to use the majority of my cultural side to tap into all those other areas. You have to remember, I wasn't brought up in a traditional, cultural way. Man, I was brought up in Christchurch, I was brought up in an English European world. So for me, I can understand that side as well and I can tap into it.”
As to whether or not his brothers across the Tasman with get his groove, Taane is reliant and confident in his self-confessed ability to bridge those gaps and even break down a few stereotypes along the way. “For me, for what I'm doing now… there are already a few people like me who've also grown up in that environment and who are tapping into that cultural aspect as well,” explains Taane, who promises that his live shows will be a high energy experience with one aim – bringing people together.
“Everything is danceable,” he chirps excitedly. “I just really encourage people to sing and to get involved. I've been doing lots of looping with my guitar and making beats with my acoustic so that things become very sonic, very rock'n'roll,” Taane explains before taking a deep breath and laying it on the line. “You know, I've worked so hard for this and now I can literally just stand on stage with only an acoustic and still rock the joint. Before you know it, two hours have gone and it's unreal because by the end of it, people always still want more.”