2 Apr 2024

Review: New Urban Polynesian by Fuemana

From The Sampler, 2:30 pm on 2 April 2024
Christina, Phillip, and Pauly Fuemana

Christina, Phillip, and Pauly Fuemana Photo: Supplied

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At the 2022 Taite Prize, the NZ Classic Record award went to a 1994 compilation that collected young hip-hop and R&B artists from South and West Auckland. Produced by Alan Jansson, Proud featured Sisters Underground, Semi MCs, and Otara Millionaires Club.

Pauly Fuemana was involved in that last act, and would take the initials OMC to greater heights in partnership with Jansson.

His older brother Phillip was responsible for two songs on Proud: ‘We R the OMC’, and ‘Bassed on a Lost Cause’. After the record’s success, the label Deepgrooves offered him the opportunity to make his own LP. The results were another significant local record, which has just been reissued on vinyl.

‘Seasons’ is the second track on New Urban Polynesian, an album by Fuemana. The group was made up of Tony, Christina, Pauly, and Phil Fuemana, four siblings with a Niuean father and Māori mother, and Matty J Ruys, a Pākehā singer. 

Phil was the driving force behind the band, who originally formed under the name Houseparty. In 1991 they recorded the track ‘Dangerous Love’, which appears here in an updated 1994 mix.

‘Dangerous Love’ has a lead vocal from Christina Fuemana, and a rap interlude by Mark Hotu. I learned from the extensive liner notes for this reissue that at the time Hotu was a high school maths teacher.

The song had some success in Europe, getting picked up by DJs like Giles Peterson. A few years later, after shifting to the Deepgrooves label, and dropping the name Houseparty in favour of Fuemana, the band proceeded to record their debut.

Philip performed a lot of the instrumentation himself, mixing contemporary R&B with Pacific style. The modernity of production is notable, a sparse, programmed aesthetic that was cutting edge in the 1990s, with tracks like ‘Deep of the Night’ revealing a rich dub influence.

Vocals on New Urban Polynesian are split between Christina, Matty J, and Phillip. Matty said he was nicknamed ‘the godfather of Ōtara’, saying “his biggest passion was where he was from”. He wanted to “bring up everyone around him”.

That led to him starting his own label two years after New Urban Polynesian, called Urban Pasifika Records. He signed acts like Moizna, the Lost Tribe, and Dei Hamo, who released his album First Edition to commercial success in 2005. 

That same year, Phil died of a heart attack. Five years later his brother Pauly died from a neurological disorder.

Their siblings Tony and Christina have been speaking publicly about the reissue of New Urban Polynesian, which lives on as a testament to their brother Phillip’s talent. 

Tony said “I can look back at that album and see how Phil planted the seed for all of us to do better.”