By GRAHAM REID
While a former prime minister suggested we were part of Asia there's certainly little sense of that on the soundtrack to our lives. You don't hear Cantonese pop or Korean hip-hop in too many places, sometimes just the whiff of it from a Honda Prelude which sits throbbing at the lights while you're waiting to cross.
And, curiously for a city with the largest Polynesian population in the world, not too much Pacific music breaks out of its own radio stations into the mainstream.
Sure King Kapisi, Che Fu and others are household names, but there's a swag of Pacific music out there - and not all of it recorded by Bill Sevesi.
Auckland's King Records distributes a number of labels specialising in Pacific music and the music cuts a broad swathe from traditional sounds (the handsomely packaged Heiva Nui 2000 double disc recorded at a festival of traditional songs and dances in Tahiti) to Honolulu hip-hop.
First, however, local heroes who are making good offshore. So good we seldom see them here, except on disc.
Te Vaka, Nukukehe (Spirit of Play): Te Vaka leader Opetaia Foa'i not only has a mainline into melody but the studio smarts (with Malcolm Smith) to polish and refine the music into Pasifika crossover pop which shimmers with glistening guitars and pulses with rhythms from log drums. Add in the occasional children's chorus and gorgeous vocals by Sulata and it's a winning combination. The messages are emotional and important: Sei Ma Le Losa is dedicated to the late David McTaggart, the founder of Greenpeace, and elsewhere are laments for what has been lost in the Pacific. Ballads such as Loimata E Maligi (Let the Tears Fall Down) written in memory of the 19 girls killed by fire in their Tuvalu (boarding school) are hauntingly beautiful.
Oshen, Iron Youth (Cinnamon/King): Hawaiian ragga and reggae with hip-hop connections (track two is Pacifican Herbsman) and mainman Oshen - who looks like a body building surfer - does a natty line in PNG pidgin rapping, which has got to be rare indeed. As with much Pacific music there's plenty of programming (it saves paying for a band) so over the long haul there's a sterility, and the weaker tracks (love songs like Pretty Wahine and Girl pall pretty quickly) pull it back. But on the deeper, more political tracks Oshen proves he's got something to say.
Saimone Vuatalevu, My Originals (Mangrove/King): Programmed Fijian pop with traditional elements, recorded in Noumea. It includes Meda sua ai voce kina yabaki 2000 which won some song contests (although it owes a little to the Statler Brothers' Flowers on the Wall to these ears) and Tucake mai which picked up a bag of trophies at '98 South Pacific International Song Contest.
Various, Pacific Hotel (Oceania/King): Attractively packed double disc box of electro-ambient chillout music with a broadly Pacific agenda. Includes many local heroes (TrinityRoots with Little Things, Jedeye, Downtown Brown, Salmonella Dub with Problems and Gospel According to Mant, Rhian Sheehan, Big Belly Woman and others). France's Electro Mana (who did the selection and offer the charming, sitar-kissed Deia) sit alongside Black Rose of Fiji and like-minded acts from Australia, New Caledonia and Hawaii. Hard to make the case for some that there is much Pacifika involved, but sitting in the cool lobby of a hotel on a palm-lined island this would be pretty appealing. Works just as well at home too.
Daniel Rae Costello, Greatest Hits(Tango/King): Costello is a star in Fijian reggae so these 16 tracks were probably genuine hits, too. Breezy reggae-pop with the right attitude (The Bula Way and Another Margarita encapsulate it). It promises holidays, (Moonlight Tango), offers warm love songs and plenty of shuffle dancing on white sandy beaches. Reggae from the region with a distinctive flavour courtesy of the suggestion of steel guitars.
Jamoa Jam, The Future (Pacific Dream/King): In a more just world this local outfit would be huge and you'd be asking "Westlife who?" These guys marry ballads with gentle hip-hop, boy band pop with soul-reggae, and have an implicit sense of the slowness of Pacific time in places. But mostly they are world class r'n'b with an eye on the ladies and Dreaded Island Style with touches of Timbaland's production influence deserves to be a breakout hit for radio. Very smart stuff.
Fiji, Transition (Ricochet/King): Diverse but coherent mix of traditional chants, reggae-style toasting and Fijian love songs. Fiji is a big voiced loverman, the arrangements are excellent, and the colouring with washes of wah-wah guitar in the manner of the early Wailers lifts this a further notch. Soulful r'n'b is here, too, but this is also for those who like a bit of dancehall ragga as much as an acoustic ballad. Kickin' It With Polys is his party track-cum-mission statement.