By Louisa Cleave
Fourteen years after Ardijah was shouted down at a gig for playing cover versions the South Auckland band has claimed the No 1 spot on the charts - with a cover song.
The irony of reaching the elusive goal two weeks ago with Paul McCartney's Silly Love Songs is not lost on Ryan and Betty-Anne Monga, the constants in the Ardijah equation.
They recall one of their first gigs at the former Gluepot venue in Ponsonby.
"A voice shouted out in the crowd, 'Play some originals' and we were so embarrassed because we had no originals," Ryan says. "From then on it was, 'If we release anything it's going to be original.'"
The success continued this week with three New Zealand music award nominations - best group, female vocalist and single for last year's cover of the Bee Gees' Love So Right.
With hits like Give Me Your Number, Your Love Is Blind, Time Makes A Wine and Watching You, Ardijah established themselves as New Zealand's original funk band.
In the early 90s, they relocated to Sydney where a contractual dispute with their record company left them in limbo.They did not record for four years and spent that time in the studio working for other people.
Returning home in 1995, Ryan says they felt like outsiders. "We didn't fit into R&B or hip-hop," and had to re-establish themselves in the music industry.
Last year Ardijah reclaimed a place in the charts with Love So Right, which went to No 6.
"To me, we had achieved with our own songs, so it was 'OK, we'll show them how much easier it is to do a cover.' All the hard work has been done," says Ryan, the melody-maker behind Ardijah.
Singer Betty-Anne says reaching the top spot was never a major drive for the band but, hey, it does feel great.
"I think with No 1 there's an interpretation of success there, but I think we've succeeded in many forms. We are grateful [Silly Love Songs] reached No 1 and was recognised. Still, getting in and creating the music is an indication of success," she says.
Silly Love Songs, a favourite old song of Ryan's, just seemed to fit the music he was working on at the time.
"Of course, in our neighbourhood usually you'd remake black American R&B and here we are doing a Pommy song. We don't look at the colour, but the song itself. We looked at the lyrics - 'some people want to fill the world with silly love songs' - and realised Ardijah have always been singing love songs or funk. When I looked at the lyrics I thought, 'This is an Ardijah formula,' it's all about love songs."
Ardijah will release a new album - only its second - in the middle of this year.
They have not ruled out more covers and will include Love So Right and Silly Love Songs on the album.
New originals are planned, but there is also a chance of revamping old Ardijah hits from the 80s, "taking off the use-by date" and souping up the grooves to include them on the album.
"It's either love songs or funk songs, dance or romance," laughs Ryan.
The problem in Australia, says Ryan, is that their record company did not know which pigeonhole Ardijah fitted into.
It has taken 14 years to claim a market of their own. Or maybe everyone else has just caught up
By Louisa Cleave