Hard News by Russell Brown


Friday Music: An Outstanding Evening

The Apra Silver Scrolls has long been the rootsier, more intimate sibling of the New Zealand Music Awards, but on Tuesday evening, it stepped up, making the move to Vector Arena that the Music Awards made several years ago.

Would it still be the same? As it turned out, yes, absolutely. With the stage brought a long way forward (Beyonce's staging was all in place behind it) the room still felt relatively intimate, and strings of simple white festoon lights gave it the atmosphere of a summer marquee.

The creative keynote to the awards ceremony is always the same: the five nominated songs are performed, often in surprising ways, by acts brought in or assembled by the show's musical director. Over the years, there have been versions that have been, at best, confusing, but there wasn't a bum note in Godfrey de Grut's show this year, and there were a moments that were not only creatively oustanding, but simply moving.

The night also marked Dave Dobbyn's induction into the New Zealand Music Hall of Fame, and three of his songs were performed. The one that took everyone's breath away was 'It Dawned On Me', played by Mark Vanilau and Scribe. Everybody knows how well Mark Vanilau sings, but Scribe? A revelation.

The guy's let himself down in a number of ways over the years, but on Tuesday night he reminded people why he deserves to be on a stage. I'd love to see him further explore this kind of material.

As well as posting video of the whole evening, Hugh Sundae has been helpfully excerpting the other covers and speeches (you can see all of them here). I really liked Aaradhna's 'Wake Up' as performed by three drummers:

And then, of course, there was that mad version of 'Royals':

I don't think the Lorde and Joel Little winning the Silver Scroll for 'Royals' was the done deal some people assumed it to be. The Apra members and judging panels have been happy to ignore commercial success before. But the response from the room was generous, as it had been all night whenever Lorde was mentioned. It was a room full of people who understood what had been achieved. 

It was funny to see Lorde -- who rules her interviews -- a little lost for words when she came up to receive the award ("I'm so new to this"). That left more of the talking to Joel Little. It was nice to hear him speak, and in so doing illustrate how his personality forms part of this success story.

"I think the scary part of it is you definitely haven't written your best song," he said to his suddenly famous collaborator:

This won't be the last we hear of Joel Little either. If you haven't already caught up with it, here's the first public track from a new project Joel has been producing. It's very, very good:

It was former Apra director Mike Chunn who first lifted the awards into an event that really said something about New Zealand. Back in the day, it often  had a campaigning feel -- there was a lot to be fought for -- but now it's more about celebration and memory and the power of song. About who've become and not just who we want to be.

Thus, Don McGlashan's fine speech on behalf of the Apra board paid tribute to both the late Dave McArtney and the new kid from Devonport, and Dave Dobbyn's induction unexpectedly provided a stage for the redemption of another performer.

Which is pretty much a perfect tribute to Dave Dobbyn and who he is. He's one of the most soulful people I know. He's funny, generous and he makes Jesus sound like a great guy. I thought Neil Finn had it right in the video tribute: on every Dobbyn album there are one or two songs that are "lifted" into the public consciousness. Long may that be the case.

The opening lines of Nick Bollinger's new Audioculture article on Dave are insightful:

His songs are sung at weddings and funerals – not just those of everyday citizens but also civic leaders. They are performed for visiting dignitaries, hollered spontaneously at boozy sing-alongs, adopted as campaign songs for major sporting events. At different times, in different situations, he seems to speak – or at least sing – for the whole country.

And yet Dave Dobbyn started out as, and in many ways remains, an atypical Kiwi, the classic outsider. Diminutive, shy, freckly and ginger-haired, he was the kid who was the target for school bullies. His guitar and a sense of humour were his only defence against a hostile world.

The evening ended with a surprise that had me both out of my seat dancing and and little bit teary. For the first time in nearly 20 years, Brenda Makammeoafi and Hassanah Iroegbu -- Sisters Underground --performed 'In The Neighbourhood' (Apra flew them in from Australia and Florida respectively). As Simon Grigg explains in the Audioculture entry for Sisters Underground they only recorded one other tune. They never got to make an album.

But what they did was make a song that says "this is ours". And also, for me -- having spent too much time recently arguing with American idiots presuming to instruct the world what we're allowed to say or think about hip hop -- it says "this is our hip hop". And it's wonderful.


Some other bits and bobs ...

A chart of the most-mentioned brands on Jay-Z's records. Yes, Cristal and Maybach.

Metric are coming to Auckland in December!

Cassandra's Ears on Audioculture.

A new tune from Wellington prodigy Estère!

What an asshole Glenn Danzig is.

Follow on Frano Jay on Soundcloud.

Get this Copycat track before it hits the 100 mark and goes off free download:

Moody, spacey remix of Ladi6's 'Ikarus':

Dimitri from Paris remixes Donny Hathaway's version of 'The Ghetto'. Mmmm ...

And, finally, at TheAudience, a shimmering, graceful track from Ernesto Anemone (click through for a free download). Totally impressed with this:

"More tablas in dance music!" says my darling, and I think we can all get behind that.



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