‘Racism is rampant’: Alien Weaponry, the metallic band standing up for Māori tradition

New Zealand was a warfare zone within the mid-1800s. On one facet had been the British and the colonial authorities, craving a stranglehold on extra of the nation’s land. On the opposite had been the indigenous Māori folks, preventing to protect tino rangatiratanga: their sovereignty and self-determination.

On 29 April 1864, the British invaded Pukehinahina, often known as Gate Pā. Regardless of being grossly outnumbered, the Māori fended off the attackers utilizing hid trenches and guerrilla ways. It was a fleeting victory in a warfare that, in the end, led to the confiscation of 3m acres of Māori land.

Niel de Jong used to take his younger sons, Henry and Lewis, on street journeys previous Pukehinahina. Half Dutch and half Māori, he informed them how their great-great-great-grandfather fought and died there to guard indigenous freedoms. On different outings he confirmed them Hatupatu’s Rock – the place delusion says a younger boy was magically shielded from an attacking bird-woman – and Lake Rotoiti, dwelling of their Māori ancestors.

A file producer by commerce, Niel additionally launched his boys to music. Guitars, pianos and even a harpsichord had been strewn round the home, and he uncovered them to all the pieces from Bob Marley to Rage Towards the Machine.

Immediately, Henry and Lewis are, respectively, the 21-year-old drummer and 19-year-old singer/guitarist of Alien Weaponry, a groove metallic trio accomplished by bassist Tūranga Morgan-Edmonds (who amicably changed longtime member Ethan Trembath in 2020). Their tracks are sung within the Māori language, and fold the De Jongs’ musical education and heritage right into a soundscape that’s folkloric but vicious. On new album Tangaroa, Īhenga honours the explorer of the identical title, who found and named Lake Rotoiti, whereas Ahi Kā recollects Auckland’s council burning a Māori village to the bottom to “beautify” the town for Elizabeth II’s go to in 1952. As Lewis says, celebrating and preserving the Māori tradition will all the time be inherent to the band: “Māori aren’t treated the same as others in New Zealand and, till that modifications, we’re not completed.”

As soon as named “the most popular younger metallic band on the earth” by Steel Hammer, Alien Weaponry performed their first present when Henry and Lewis had been simply 13 and 11. “It was on this dive bar on K’ Road – Auckland’s red-light district – between a homosexual bar and a strip membership,” remembers Henry, surprisingly extra verbose than his child brother, who as frontman bellows on stage. “We performed to 3 folks, doing the identical 5 songs for about two hours.”

In 2017 – barely of their mid-teens – Alien Weaponry went viral, transcending metallic’s underbelly not solely by making assured, stomping anthems but additionally by singing in Māori. Their debut album, Tū, reached No 5 within the New Zealand charts and resonated all around the globe, as proved once they opened the primary stage of the UK’s Obtain pageant. Since its 2018 launch, single Kai Tangata has accrued nearly 12m views on YouTube.

Lewis says that, that very same 12 months, a Slovenian pageant known as MetalDays gave them a way of how far they’d already come. “An enormous crowd confirmed up they usually had been all singing the lyrics in Māori. They hardly even knew English, but they knew the phrases to our songs. We’ve had folks from the opposite facet of the world say they’re studying Māori or going to check it due to us.”

That has all the time been Alien Weaponry’s foremost purpose: protecting the Māori language alive via their music. Henry grows most assertive and passionate when discussing politics – usually on the expense of no matter Lewis was saying. “What occurs with a whole lot of New Zealanders is that they’ll begin studying Māori after which they’ll lose it, as a result of it doesn’t get spoken sufficient,” the drummer says. “We’re at a degree the place we both struggle for the language to be revived or it’s gonna die.”

A century and a half after white colonialists seized the lion’s share of New Zealand, solely 4% of the inhabitants speaks Māori. English-speaking colleges barely train the language, or indigenous historical past, whereas people who do are threatened by decreased authorities funding and a scarcity of fluent lecturers. Few know this higher than the De Jongs, who studied at kura kaupapa (Māori-language immersion colleges) earlier than being pressured to go away at 9 and 6 years outdated.

Alien Weaponry.
Alien Weaponry. {Photograph}: Piotr Kwasnik

“You want lecturers with educating levels, however you additionally want lecturers who can communicate Māori fluently,” says Henry. “Loads of the time, colleges are having to make selections like, ‘Are we gonna choose this particular person with a educating diploma who can kinda communicate Māori, or this one that can communicate lovely Māori however hasn’t been taught learn how to train?’ It was a quite common drawback once we had been in kura kaupapa.”

As has been the case with each colonised nation in historical past, the domination of land and sources has led to the oppression of the indigenous. Lewis says his great-grandparents’ technology was crushed in school only for being Māori and that racist practices persist at this time, all the way in which as much as the New Zealand parliament. “There are fairly a number of folks in parliament actively attempting to push via payments that may take away Māori TV. They see it as particular therapy or no matter,” he growls.

Henry provides: “Even within the judicial system right here, racism’s rampant. Māori get charged a lot larger penalties, on common, than different folks in New Zealand. There may be nonetheless racial bias right here; folks prefer to act like there isn’t, however there definitely is.

“There’s additionally this gap that society has put a whole lot of Māori in,” he continues, “the place they’re in a monetary place the place one of many few issues they will flip to is medication. They’ve to hitch gangs simply to outlive. There are some rich Māori however, once you say Māori, lots of people suppose: poor.”

Because of this, Alien Weaponry have lengthy been writing songs which might be enlightening tales of a tradition’s customs and persecution. Their breakthrough monitor, Rū Ana Te Whenua, narrates the Battle of Pukehinahina, because the De Jongs’ dad did to them once they had been youngsters. Whispers witheringly samples former Nationwide celebration chief Don Brash – who argues “most Māori have benefited enormously from colonisation” – and laments the 2004 Foreshore and Seabed Act, which handed possession of New Zealand’s ocean to the Crown, overturning Māori protests.

Regardless of Alien Weaponry’s anti-imperialist venom, the De Jongs are optimistic. Henry spies glimmers of hope within the premiership of Jacinda Ardern, who, he says, “has opened up avenues for Māori to talk extra freely. She’s solidified extra Māori ideologies in authorities, whereas different governments have been very businesslike and ‘western’.”

He provides: “There’s all the time gonna be this push – and I wanna be part of this push – to not solely preserve Māori alive however to let the language and tradition thrive. That’s the New Zealand I wanna stay in.”

Tangaroa is out now on Napalm Data.

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