Reggae greats revive a classic

By Paula Yeoman

Kiwi bands get together and jam for a good cause, writes Paula Yeoman

An exclusive collaboration of Aotearoa Reggae All Stars celebrate Matariki and showcase a brand new remake of Herbs classic 'Sensitive to a Smile' for charity. Photo / Topic/JET
An exclusive collaboration of Aotearoa Reggae All Stars celebrate Matariki and showcase a brand new remake of Herbs classic 'Sensitive to a Smile' for charity. Photo / Topic/JET

The year was 1987 and Ruatoria was making headlines as tensions spilled over between local Rastafarians and the community. In a bid to put an end to the troubles, reggae band Herbs descended on the small East Coast settlement to launch their new album and film the video for its title track, Sensitive To A Smile.

The song about family quickly became a symbol for unity. So it's only fitting that 26 years on a new generation of Kiwi reggae artists is breathing life into the Kiwi classic in the fight against child abuse.

Tomorrow People's Avina Kelekolio, and Rio Panapa, from Sons of Zion, are the brains behind the Aotearoa Reggae All Stars project, the idea coming to them in the back of a tour van. "We were on the road and what we kept seeing on our newsfeed on Facebook were child abuse stories and a lot of them were affecting our people - our demographic, which is Maori and Pacific Islanders," says Kelekolio.

"We decided if we were going to do something, we were going to do it big. So our idea was to get all the top reggae bands in the country to come together and do one song for charity."

The pair had no problem deciding what song it should be. "It was like a lightbulb went off. Let's pay tribute to an original band from the 80s. And the song is about family and children so it fit the topic perfectly," he adds.

Nor did they have any trouble convincing fellow musicians, including Che Fu and Ria Hall, and bands Katchafire, 1814, House of Shem and Three Houses Down, to join the cause.

Kelekolio was only 7 when the original song came out, so admits he didn't know a lot about the circumstances around its release. But he's since done his research and says Panapa met Dilworth Karaka from Herbs to get the band's blessing to re-record it.

He says it was a logistical nightmare getting everyone together at the same time. "It was just a matter of whether everybody had the time. For example, Katchafire was still touring in the United States. But, thankfully for technology, they were able to record their parts where they were."

The rest gathered at York Street Studios in Auckland. "We had to book a weekday because all the bands work on the weekends. And we just ran a really tight schedule, so that everybody came in at a certain time."

And, Kelekolio says, everyone involved felt immense pressure to do the song justice. "We didn't want to kill a classic. But I think we stayed true to elements of the original song."

All proceeds from the song, on sale from Friday, June 21, will go to the Maori child advocacy organisation Mana Ririki.

"It's a privilege to be a part of this, says Kelekolio. "As musicians we're given talents to reach out to people and to communicate. There could be victims or people that are directly affected in our audiences every weekend, so we're hoping that this message really relates to people."


Sensitive To A Smile can be downloaded on iTunes on Friday, June 21. A one-hour music special with behind-the-scenes footage will also be shown on Maori Television at 9.30pm on June 21.

- Herald on Sunday

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