Hikoikoi are the kind of band the world needs just now in these unstable, uncertain times; an act that has an unshakeable dedication to peace and equality.
Thankfully, they’re also a damn good band, an excellent self-titled debut album released last year heralding their unique form of roots reggae.
Hikoikoi are heavily involved in the Parihaka Peace Festival in Taranaki, and Hikoikoi, the album, was laced with conscious-heavy tracks like Jah Armour and A Deeper Revelation.
With that in mind it’s a little of a surprise to hear from dreadlocked bassist James Coyle that Hikoikoi’s sound is evolving away from the sounds that has its roots in Jamaica.
At the office where he works part-time as an architect in Wellington, Coyle told me more about the new direction and something that won’t change – they’re dedication to just causes
Porky: What’s the plans for the band just now?
James Coyle: We’re recording a lot in the studio just now, and have finished one song that we’ll be releasing in September on a nationwide tour. It’s called Timewalking and signals new ground for the band. Quite often we have been focused on roots-reggae but this album will have elements of rock. A lot of the other songs that we’ve demoed for this upcoming album have a harder edge, they’re less cruisy than previous songs.
Porky: And what of the lyrics and themes on the new material, does that have a harder edge as well?
JC: We have a strong message, that of peace, but also a strong interest in past events, for example, atrocities carried out during World War 2, and also in this land, issues of colonisation. In the past we’ve supported the kaupapa of quite a few information concerts, like one in Tuhoe to support in the struggle of the people there. The police raids (in 2007) and what’s also happening now (the Government’s rejection of the Te Urewaras being returned to Tuhoe) – I like to think that music is part of a solidarity campaign, to push for past wrongs to be corrected.
(for more on Tuhoe: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ng%C4%81i_T%C5%ABhoe)
(And for more on Te Urewara and the Tuhoe tribe: http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/politics/3677975/Tuhoe-negotiators-told-Urewera-off-the-table)
Porky: Can you give the readers an indication of what to expect on the single?
JC: We have a guy called Kieran Rynhart directing the video and it looks like it will be an interesting one. He’s starting from scratch with an image of a land that has nothing, then develops with mountains growing from the oceans, animals inhabiting the land and it goes through to the early discoverers of New Zealand, the colonisation of New Zealand and looks into the future.
Porky: Any idea when the album might come out?
JC: March next year. We’ll also be touring then.
Porky: Did you pick up some influences from other bands or just decide you wanted to do more rockier sounds?
JC: I think it’s the influences within us. There are three of us in the band with our personalities shaping the band. For example, Paul (Wickham), the singer – his previous band was much influenced by rock. Roots-reggae is something that unites us all but I’m very much into jazz, particularly Miles Davis.
Porky: It’s interesting how you are changing, as the debut album was very much a reggae record with various other influences.
JC: Looking back, we really dig that sound but we also found it quite cruisy and we thought that things should get a bit more intense. We have a pretty intense live show and the album will reflect that live sound. Our drummer, Ben (Wood), who also does a fair bit of producing, has a lot of experience in drum’n’bass so he also adds an interesting dimension in the studio.
Porky: Where are you recording, in the boat sheds again?
JC: We worked in two studios at Hikoikoi Reserve (in Petone) but Paul has since moved his business to Akaratawa, which is that crazy road that goes from Upper Hutt to Waikanae. It’s a beautiful property, the river runs through it and there’s plenty of swimming holes. It’s a great location and the garage where we record has an interesting sound that’s impacting upon on the band.
Porky: You say Paul is a businessman and you’re an architecture undergraduate, so to some people it might be a bit of a contradiction that Hikoikoi is about peace, justice and equality.
JC: I guess the only people who have time to be actively fighting for those things are devoting their whole life to it or allowed the time to do it, which we don’t. But when you talk about business, Paul is a traditional boat builder, so he’s working with his hands every day, and he’s a very humble man so when it comes to writing lyrics and composing music he brings that humbleness into it. He really thinks about the world, and the suffering of people less fortunate than we are in New Zealand. One track from the debut album, Sudan Sun, was projecting ourselves into their shoes and imagining what it must be like to be that hungry and oppressed.
Porky: I was reading a piece on a blog that said you were more of a consciousness reggae band than an activist reggae band, but it sounds like you’re a bit of both.
JC: We’re nothing like some activists, there are some activists who devote their lives to changing the corrupt systems. It takes a lot of commitment to be an activist and it is an aspiration of ours to devote more of our time to that.