The story of the iconic Dawn Raid Entertainment record label begins with its founders Andy Murnane and Danny 'Brotha D' Leaoasavaii selling t-shirts at the Otara Markets at the tail end of the '90s, sees the pair triumphantly scaling the heights of the music charts in the 2000s, before losing their grip and plummeting as far as it's possible to fall a few short years later.
It's a story of building an empire with a turnover of almost $5 million from nothing but hustle, determination and a genuine love of music. Fittingly, it's a story soundtracked by classic local hip-hop recorded by Dawn Raid's impressive and era-defining roster of artists like the boisterous Savage, the serious Mareko, the hard hitting crew Deceptikonz, the sweetly harmonious R&B duo Adeaze and the soulful Aaradhna.
But mostly it's a story of hopes and dreams and what happens when you get everything you ever wanted and then lose it all.
"I really hope that this film finds an audience beyond traditional hip-hop fans or music fans," director Oscar Kightley says of his new feature-length documentary on the South Auckland label, which opens in cinemas today. "Because their story is an interesting human story about risk and reward and about having a dream and friendship."
Simply titled Dawn Raid the documentary sees the major players, artists, industry types and Brotha D and Andy, narrating their sides of the story backed up with amazing archival footage from the era. It charts the meteoric rise, devastating fall at the hands of the tax man and the hopeful rebirth of a label that defined the sound of Polynesian hip-hop and took the sound of South Auckland to the world. It is, in effect, a classic Kiwi underdog tale.
"New Zealanders really love that stuff. It seems to be part of our DNA," Kightley says. "I feel like we love it when one of our own succeeds in a field that's dominated by others and where we're not expected to succeed or be any good,"
Dawn Raid didn't just succeed, they dominated. Number One records and singles, sell out tours, million dollar deals with international labels like Universal and Warner Music, songs in blockbuster movies, a business empire that included a recording studio, clothing factory, clothing shop, barbershop and massive corporate deals with the likes of Telecom's youth cellphone provider Boost Mobile and advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi.
Throughout it all its founders stayed proudly loyal to their community keeping their business, homes and lives there as well as operating a community trust to help guide the area's kids to a successful path. 'South Auckland represent,' as the saying goes. Instead of leaving Andy and Brotha D pulled the rest of the country, and then the world, in.
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"Yeah, definitely," Kightley agrees before saying, "It was also not so much Pacific culture as it was Pacific people. Dawn Raid wasn't doing traditional Samoan or Tongan songs. They weren't doing cultural performances. They were making contemporary hip-hop that transcended culture. People didn't love them because they were doing Pacific culture, that was one of the by-products, one of the cool things that happened."
"People tend to focus only on that and minimise the greater thing that they did for the country. Maybe specifically the Pacific community, but people don't love them for that. They love them because they loved the music. They loved the artists, they loved the voices, they loved the songs. People don't ever love stuff to be right on. The art these guys made really hit New Zealand. That's why I reckon whether you're from South Auckland or not, this is a cool story of our time. Of this thing that happened at the end of the 20th century/beginning of the 21st where traditional ideas of what New Zealand music was and what New Zealand audiences liked were turned on their head."
* Dawn Raid opens in cinemas today.