On the eve of Che Fu's much-expected debut solo album, the former Supergroove singer turned solo star of hip-hop, reggae and soul hits the streets of his town with RUSSELL BAILLIE.

You can hear that mysterious quality in Che Fu's songs: the sound of the street - his streets.

The elements of the music he's blended together for his debut solo album 2 b S.Pacific may have originally sprung from the avenues of Kingston or The Bronx. But this is the sound of inner Auckland's own concrete jungle. That's the area where Che grew up, half-Maori and half-Niuean and immersed in his parents' Rastafarian faith.

It's the area where at high school, he joined a band which was eventually became local pop phenomenon Supergroove.

It's the ground where he found his own voice as a singer, rapper and songwriter after the group's stylistic swing to Anglo-pop made him surplus to requirements. And where he found his feet somewhat spectacularly, on his first post-band single Chains - a collaboration with DJ DLT - which was a local number one for six weeks.


It's a grey Wednesday afternoon in Auckland. But it's also the day Che has earned his first No 1 under his own name. The charts have just come in. His double A-side Without A Doubt/ Machine Talk is in top single spot. He's quietly chuffed about it.

But we have other plans for him than celebration - let's go see these streets of his. A record company car is duly converted to our own use complete with a stereo of windscreen-rattling strength in which a CD copy of 2 b.S.Pacific is lined up and ready to go.

Che's not in the driver's seat for a change but navigating. As we head-down Ponsonby Rd, the first track Waka offers a sun-kissed soul tune over a scratchy beat. Cruising music.

In past encounters, Che has always seemed a little bashful and circumspect. A man who would rather let others do the talking and keep himself to the singing. Today, though, enthused by getting to play tour guide, he's chatty, funny and at ease as a man could be while talking to a journalist who just doesn't drive very well, while his very first album is acting as a soundtrack.

First stop is Ponsonby's Summer St. Che points out one villa - one of the few that hasn't undergone the traditional Ponsonby renovation - which is his grandmother's house. As is the Niuean tradition, he says, he as the oldest boy was effectively raised by her and so did much of his growing up here. Still is, occasionally he laughs.

We swing up to the Three Lamps end of Ponsonby Road. "Look it's gone," he mock-exclaims at the Gluepot building, once a musical and social hub of old Ponsonby. And where the underage Supergroove often performed in their early days having to leave the premises right after the end of their set.

Further back up Ponsonby Rd, he points out the site that now houses the local A&E clinic was once the base for the 12 Tribes of Israel, the Auckland Rastafarian chapter that his parents were once heavily involved with. And whose regular reggae dances had a very young Che behind the microphone.

But his faith isn't up for discussion: "I have sort of made the decision I would rather talk one-on-one with someone as opposed to an interview where its possible you might be misrepresented. I've made that mistake before..."


We head into town. At the bottom of Queen St, the track Rain on Tha Roof - one of two identifiably reggae tracks starts it skank. Yes, his mum likes that one and wishes he'd done more reggae on the album.

It's up into High St, Auckland's inner-city central. He points out the bar in the onetime De Bretts Hotel where he first encountered the hip-hop DJ-ing skills of Manuel Bundy, then it's up past Cause Celebre where he's got a regular gig on Thursday nights. We talk of his early encounters with hip-hop back in the days of breakdancing.

It's back to Shortland St and up the top of the hill, past the old brick NZBC studios which among its windowless labyrinth is The Hut, the studio where Che recorded the album.

Now where? Well, let's go and see this old school you rappers keep hearing about. So it's off to Western Springs College, formerly Seddon High School.

As we head out of the city, the album's first single Scene III sways forth with its decidedly Oriental melody line. The hook is taken from a soundtrack of a Honk Kong film that stuck in his head.

We talk about the rap-martial arts connection. It's even influenced his name - in Supergroove he was plain old Che Ness.

"It was an MC name initially, a stage name but the big stuff-up that happened was the dash in the middle of Che-Fu was lost so people associated that with being my surname which was not so. It was supposed to be an association with Kung Fu, or styles of Che, Fu means work - work of Che."

We reach the gates of the on-holiday college, opposite the zoo. Che points out the music room which was effectively Supergroove's birthplace and he talks about how he talked his way into the choir. Things might have turned out differently if he hadn't gone there.

"There used to be a tradition, if you were Polynesian, a traditional route you could go. You would go to Grey Lynn Primary or Richmond Primary, then to Kowhai Intermediate then you would go to MAGS [Mt Albert Grammar School] if you were a boy. If you were a girl you would go to AGGS [Auckland Girls' Grammar School]. I sort of said 'Nah I'll go to Ponsonby Intermediate' - free-thinking, loving school and then MAGS got no girls eh? Seddon! I was a bit of a rebel in that sense. That was a really big thing, your schooling. My grandmother and my parents they take that stuff seriously."

We head towards Great North Road. The clipped beat of Chains has swung into the sweet acoustic beginnings of the reggae-tinted last track Trust. A police car is heading the other way. I see its driver glance toward Che, then me and carry on. Wonder if we were both Che's colour he'd turn around and ask us what were doing in such a flash car. It's happened to Che before.

It's past Western Springs stadium, where as a four year-old he stood on stage - next to the Wailers' keyboard player - when Bob Marley performed there in April 1979. Says he still remembers it, vividly.

Tour over, we retire to a Grey Lynn cafe not far from his house. Funnily enough, Marley's One Love soon comes on the stereo, soon followed by Exodus. The talk inevitably turns to Supergroove.

Che says he has to go off record about the circumstances of his departure from the band. But it seems he's recently made his peace with the band's former members - "clever, clever cats" - and took no satisfaction when the band foundered after the album recorded in the wake of his departure.But otherwise Supergroove was a dream come true.

"It was the best way to learn the work I wanted to do. It was the best fun. We were young, on-the-road, gigging, doing stuff that normal 15 year-olds don't usually have the chance to do - playing in licensed venues for one and being able to have input into the whole machine ... all those things that you dream about in your bedroom.

"It was like hands-on, in-your-face and it was making waves and that was the beautiful thing about it. These ideas that we were concocting in our garage were doing really well."

Back to the present. Che says he wrote the album songs with a some social commentary in mind, and especially aimed at youth.

"Primarily I wrote a lot of the songs directed at 12 Tribes of Israel youth ... I was one of them and to me they are so on to it it's freaky. They can go to school and they know who the Man is they know what Babylon [the Rasta term for the evils of the material world]is and they know who the powers-that-be are. They have an understanding of it at school.

"People don't give children enough credit on their ability to learn. They think they're five and they'll teach them just five year old rubbish."

"It's targeted at the youth in general, not just Polynesian youth, not just New Zealand youth. I see an imbalance - you have got to have evil to have good but it's unbalanced at the moment..."

Then again Che has kids on the brain right now. His partner Ange is expecting their first child in a month.

We've been out for a couple of hours and the record company is probably wondering where their car is by now. Che says his goodbyes, agrees it's been fun and crosses the road to head home.

I turn the car back to town and cue track six - the swaggering electrofunk of Machine Talk and turn the volume up to windscreen-rattling levels.

These streets may not look much, but right now they've never sounded better.


Weekend TimeOut

, 10/10/98