Soul brothers Adeaze are the odd men out of South Auckland's hip-hop scene. They talk to REBECCA BARRY about R&B, romantic advice, and making the leap from wedding gigs to the pop charts
It's mid-afternoon at Hunter's Corner, Papatoetoe, and graffiti artists are spraying two staunch-looking characters on to a freshly painted wall. As the finishing touches are added, a police car pulls up and two officers jump out, eyeing the action and the small crowd that has gathered to watch. They smile and walk past. The mural is coming along nicely.
Nainz and Viiz Tupa'i of R&B-pop duo Adeaze can't believe it's their faces taking gigantic, two-dimensional form - a nice promotional coup to mark the release of their debut album, Always and For Real.
"We're only just getting used to all this, eh," says Viiz, as his brother gives one of the artists a hug: "Man, this is dope."
In March Adeaze were one of the star attractions on the three-week national Hook-up Tour, also featuring hip-hop stars Scribe, the Deceptikonz, DJ Sir-Vere and Ill Semantics. Last week they performed on the TV chart show Top of the Pops.
Confirming their status in both the hip-hop and pop realms is the fact their faces aren't just peering out from this wall but from a gold plaque inside the nearby Dawn Raid studios. They're still waiting for the platinum one, certifying 30,000 sales of their single, A Life With You, which reached number three on the charts.
"They're just bonuses eh," says Nainz, 23. "It's more important that we've touched people's lives."
Until recently, their biggest gigs were at churches, rest-homes and weddings. In the past year they estimate to have performed at 30 nuptials, including those of former Warrior and schoolmate Ali Lauitiiti, former magazine editor and Paul Holmes' ex Fleur Revell, the late Kiwi actor Kevin Smith and ex-Shortland Streeter Mark Ferguson.
"We've only just started getting paid," says Nainz. "My mum always told us, 'Don't worry about the money. You love your music.' And we did. When we got up to perform we were there for the people at the wedding, but man, we were lost in our music."
They have a strict musical upbringing to thank for that - and their parents' inspirational story.
When they were children their father gave up his factory job to become a 24-hour caregiver to their mother, who is wheelchair-bound as a result of polio. Having prayed for musical offspring when they were in the womb, she encouraged the brothers to sing at church, and when they were older, took them to rest homes and disabled clubs to perform.
"It was quite a challenge because when you're kids you just want to play all the time," says Nainz, 23, the more gregarious of the two. "All our neighbours and friends would be out on the front lawn ...
Viiz, 22: " ... kicking a ball around. And me and this guy would be in the house playing instruments."
They couldn't afford to buy music, so would teach themselves songs off the radio. With piano, guitar, bass and drums blaring, they learned to harmonise and sing in falsetto by studying the Bee Gees, Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey.
In 1990 the family moved to Tokoroa so they could be between Rotorua and Auckland, as their mother required access to medication in both cities. But after four years the Rotorua facility closed, so they settled in Mangere.
"My parents are strong," says Viiz. "My mum's strong, especially for a lady who hasn't walked since she was born. She just gets real happy when she sees us on TV and doing well in music. Just seeing her light up - yeah, that's where the fulfilment is."
Years of high school singing paid off with a performance at the Smokefree Rockquest in 1997 which caught the attention of Brotha D (Danny Leaosavaii), co-founder of independent hip-hop label Dawn Raid.
"For kids who were putting out that sort of music at school, I thought it was amazing," he says. "I didn't know how I was going to do it but somehow I was going to get them out there."
Two Adeaze tracks ended up on Dawn Raid's first compilation, Southside Story, and they collaborated with fellow Samoan artist Lole on her album. Then they moved out of home to attend performing arts school, took on jobs at McDonald's and worked on developing their sound, eventually signing to the label in late 2002.
"It's taken them a while but they're finally here," says
Brotha D. "They've seen a few things. They're more mature. They've done the hard yards, in the churches, in the weddings. I truly think they're blessed. You give them instruments, you tell them, 'Bro, you sing this song - game over."
Not quite. After a lifetime of playing seated, acoustic gigs, they had to learn to work the stage like pop stars. The Hook-Up Tour was a chance to watch and learn.
"Our first gig we were pretty stiff eh," says Nainz. "Brotha D would say to us, you have to do an R&B set. You ain't going to be sitting there with your guitars and that.' Bro, we got nervous eh? We'd never really learnt how to entertain a crowd on that aspect. We'd learnt some of that at performing arts school but that was different because it was more musical theatre."
They had done a brief stint on the box about 10 years ago, singing Eric Clapton's Tears in Heaven on the kids' show What Now?
Nainz cracks up now when he watches the tape, but they decided to include the song as one of three covers on the album, a controversial choice as Clapton wrote it about the death of his son.
Adeaze are adamant its author would approve. They sing it because it's "a beautiful song". Likewise, their risky decision to cover the Bee Gees' 1977 hit, How Deep is Your Love?. It was hoped an older song would lure the older market, a prospect overshadowed when it debuted at number six on the charts.
"Maurice Gibb passed away while they were recording the album," says Nainz. "Brotha D thought it would be good to do a tribute song. I was like, 'but the Bee Gees' original version is mean ... and who are we?' At first I didn't wanna do it eh."
He wasn't the only one who wasn't convinced, with one online detractor suggesting Adeaze are as old-fashioned as the song's original authors.
"People write just about what's cool and that's all good, but we just want real music to come back," says Nainz. "Real music that touches the soul and affects people. Not many musicians think like that anymore. When music came out in the old days it was all about that."
A third cover song on the album has more resonance, albeit it further reiterating their past inspirations. E Pai is a traditional Samoan gospel song their uncle taught them when they used to visit him in Wellington. "There's so much that hits home for us with that song," says Viiz.
Neither brother has visited Samoa yet, although they speak the language fluently. "The way they describe a dream in our language is just ancient. Every Samoan feels it, eh. That's how powerful that song is."
Their own music has certain powers too.
Nainz wrote A Life with You to apologise to his girlfriend after an argument. Now the song does it for men around the country.
"Even the hardest guys come up to us like, 'Hey man, you've helped me with my relationship," says Viiz. "Some of the brothers - they're not good at talking, y'know? Especially to the missus.
"We read this mean-as Marvin Gaye quote the other day: 'I felt the strong urge to write music and to write lyrics that would touch the souls of men.'
"Wow, we really relate to that."
* Always and For Real by Adeaze is released on May 3.