29 Jul 2021

Pacific artists reflect ahead of Dawn Raids apology

1:24 pm on 29 July 2021

A generation of Pasifika in the late 1990s used creativity as an outlet to vent, and to break the silence of the Dawn Raids, years after it ended.

As the New Zealand government prepares to issue a formal apology for the Dawn Raids of the 1970s on Sunday, RNZ Pacific looked at how trauma and hurt felt by Pasifika was conveyed through art and entertainment.

From the recording studio to the runway, Pasifika were documenting the ripple effects of the raids.

Oscar Kightley remembered the 90s as a weird period for New Zealand discourse, as if the Dawn Raids were kicked under the carpet.

Oscar Kightley

Oscar Kightley Photo: supplied

On the other hand, he described a "coming of age" for second generation Pasifika migrants who launched into the world career-focused and whose work was directly influenced by their wider kainga.

"It was weird that it just wasn't a thing," he said. "It was almost like something that was in the national amnesia and best left there."

"And I think our community was quite happy not talk about it because it was so awful."

We now know Oscar Kightley as a jack of many trades, although it was in 1997 that he launched the Dawn Raids production as a debutant playwright. The play looked at how the Dawn Raids ripped apart Pasifika families.

He was later casted in the play called Tatau: Rites of Passage. That play, looking the effects of immigration, included the live tattooing demonstrating of a Samoan pe'a.

"It was a kinda period piece that went from the 40s to the 80s and it was pretty full on at times," he said.

"And I remember [a television news reporter] saying 'can't you guys make happy stories?' in a kinda flippant, casual way."

"But it was just that attitude like, why do you guys need to talk about this stuff?"

Rapper Bill Urale, better known as King Kapisi, began his career around the same period.

King Kapisi aka Bill Urale

King Kapisi aka Bill Urale Photo: Supplied

He performed alongside big stage names such as Janet Jackson, Beastie Boys and Red Hot Chilli Peppers.

And it's on the stage, at sold-out venues across the world - that King Kapisi took Dawn Raids-inspired lyricism to the world.

"For some reason, I thought I was Maori," he said. "And the reason why that was, because I had never understood what the word Samoa was."

"You know we spoke Samoan at home but until I touched the motherland, I was able to say wow there heaps of Samoans over here."

King Kapisi's discography include debut album Savage Thoughts - with titles such as 'Home Invasion' and 'Fix Amnesia.'

King Kapisi

King Kapisi Photo: Kirsten Johnstone

He was part of the trio The Overstayers of Kuā, alongside DJ Raw and Tha Freestyle.

In 2002, he founded streetwear clothing label The Overstayer Clothing Company.

His garments retailed in Farmers department stores, and appeared on the catwalks of Westfield Style Pasifika and New Zealand Fashion Week.

"Whatever you create - it represents where you're from, your family but also your lineage," he said.

King Kapisi

King Kapisi Photo: Supplied

"And that's what I've tried to do with my music."

"You know we've made some iconic songs. And the cool thing is right now, we have the potential to create other iconic songs."

Muliagatele Danny Leaosavai'i is one half behind Dawn Raid Entertainment, which at in its glory days was home to some of the most best-selling Pasifika artists of all time.

Also known as Brotha D, he named his label Dawn Raid because he himself was raided.

"I went through it and the dogs, the early hours of the morning with the Police banging the house down and taking away my cousin."

"I remember asking my mum at the time what had happened and she just said - oh he's just been here too long.'"

Masunu in Police Uniform taking a man away during the Dawn raids

Masunu in Police Uniform taking a man away during the Dawn raids Photo: Supplied by Vaafusaga Tupuola Masunu Tuisila

Brotha D counts himself in a crowd that flipped negative stereotypes on their head.

"The one beautiful thing for me in the journey of Dawn Raid was there's Billboard magazines with the word 'Dawn Raid' in it once our music was in the Billboard."

"Once again to me there you go, that's my struggle, that's my fight, that's everything I believe in."

There are some that still seek an outlet to vent their unresolved trauma.

For the past two weeks at the Royal Commission Abuse in Care: Tatala e Pulonga inquiry, stories continue to underline the Dawn Raids' everlasting impact.

Kightley said Sunday's formal government apology will provide a chance for all - to look at where we came from, and where to move forward.

Royal Commission into Abuse in Care sitting at Fale o Samoa in Māngere.

Photo: RNZ / Andrew McRae

"The powers that be have to be prepared to engage meaningfully for that apology to mean anything," he said.

"But it's still important. And I don't want to go past this point."

"Rather than go to the this and this needs to happen. Of course, absolutely, you know time and place for all that to come out."

"But I don't want to go past this point," Kightley said.