18 Jun 2019

Herbs: Songs of Freedom

From Afternoons with Jesse Mulligan, 1:35 pm on 18 June 2019

It's been 40 years since the formation of one of New Zealand’s most iconic bands. 

Herbs: Songs of Freedom is a new film about Pacific reggae band Herbs, a group that grew out of the social activism of the late 1970s and 1980s. 

The film is directed by Tearepa Kahi, who helmed the Pātea Māori Club doco Poi E: The Story of Our Song. He told Jesse Mulligan that Herbs was a natural next step.

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Photo: HERBS: Songs of Freedom

“We'd just finished Poi E and then a good friend who I made that film with, by the name of Dick Reade, was a good friend of Dilworth (Karaka) and Tama Renata.”  

Reade opened doors, he says.

“I sort of turned up, gave my best shot, and said ‘Dilworth please, please, please’ - got on my knees basically … because it's such an exciting story, because the music is iconic and there is a lot to learn and love about these men.”

He says it was a pleasure to get members of the band together in the same room.

“It was a lot of insight into these men, the chemistry, the toll as well as the uplifting spirit that occupies all of their music.”

When Kahi was a growing up in Papanui, Christchurch, the band spoke to him, he says.  

“I didn't really see myself growing up then, I didn't hear myself, I didn't see that reflection coming back through the pipeline, on the TV and the radio and then all of a sudden, one day Herbs got together.

“And where are these guys from? They’re from Bastion Point, they’re from Tonga, from Samoa they’re from the Cook Islands, they’re from the North Shore. And this group of young men got together, and they wrote these songs which inspired all this change.”

The story that unfolded was rich in history, Kahi says.

“It's looking and appreciating these guys in the new light of day, as well as understanding all the dragons that they slayed with their big red guitars.”

The film is also a tribute to band-members who have died, he says.

“Having these men together, in the room, on stage, sharing their songs with each other was a very special experience and also a tough experience looking back because three men that have been an integral part of Herbs are no longer with us, but they're all in the film.

So it's an opportunity also for New Zealand to sort of salute and pay tribute to these men. And of course, I'm talking about Carl Perkins, Tama Renata and Thom Nepia.”

The film will receive its world premiere at the New Zealand International Film Festival at The Civic in Auckland on August 3 ahead of a nationwide general release on August 15.

More to explore about Herbs

  • Decades of dissent: protest songs in New Zealand
  • NZ Live - Herbs
  • Essential NZ Albums: Herbs - Light of the Pacific
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