Art Official and Israel Starr

NiceUp talks to two of NZs leading artists who have linked up to take reggae music and culture forward.

First up, can you both introduce yourself to the massive and tell us a bit about your backgrounds?

Art – Greetings, Art here. I’m a reggae/dancehall selector and a hip-hop DJ who has been representing the music since 97 – doing radio, gigs/tours, mixes etc. I also play some instruments and am getting into production more and more. Newtown is my yard and Newtown Sound is the name of the music house where I do my works from.

Israel – Bless up! My name is Desta Israel Buchanan, also known as Israel Starr – big up to the New Zealand massive. I grew up in Auckland in the Twelve Tribes House which was a blessing, then my family moved to Wellywood when I was about 13 and I’ve been in the Culture Capital ever since. But my roots are in the East Coast – big up all my Maoris from Ngati Porou! Teeehaaa!

So when and how did the two of you meet and start working together as a team?

Art – We met via the Aotearoa reggae legend, vocalist Mighty Asterix, Desta’s dad. As a youth Desta would come to dancehall/reggae sessions with his dad and jump on the mic. Asterix was also coming to record at the Newtown Sound studio on Constable Street a few years ago – again Desta was there, often with Tuffy Culture and friends.

After both of us spent some time away, Desta was back in touch this summer saying he was living in the area again and we began linking up in the new Newtown Sound studio and at gigs. We both had similar intentions of putting Jah works in.

Israel – Yes, as Art said, we first met through Dad. I was just a youth when I used to come with Dad to the dancehall in Welly and Art was always selecting for Dad, so Art has really been there from the start, from when I decided to take music with two hands. He has been a major influence, bless up ya self!

We’ve been working closely together since I got back from Australia last year, but decided to do things proper at the beginning of this year and it has been all go.

So Desta, as you said, your dad is The Mighty Asterix, a legendary NZ reggae vocalist.  What was it like growing up and having your dad as a mentor?

Yeah having Dad around has played the biggest part in who I am as an artist. I mean in every way, from hearing him sing every day, to listing to the tunes he was getting from all the top selectors around Aotearoa. So all the music that was hitting my ears from day one was the best of the best, and now I’ve acquired a taste for the finest high-grade music.

Dad would always listen to a lot of other types of music, especially gospel, P-funk and all the greats, Luther Vandross, Stevie Wonder, the list goes on. So he provided me with an immense knowledge base of all types of music, which has made me more of a versatile artist.

Dad lives the lyrics too – I don’t think I know anyone more ital living then Pops. I could go on about Pops but I’d have to write a book hahaha!  Bless up Pop!

You both recently released a tune – Foundation – which pays homage to the pioneers of the NZ reggae scene. Who are some of the people you have looked to within the Aotearoa scene as both an example and inspiration?

Art – It’s a blessing to have someone or something influence you so much and it’s important to show that love and respect – countless people and songs have influenced me and I have continual mad love for them!

The music in that song is a somewhat blatant throw back to sounds of 60s and 80s Jamaica and 90s hip-hop, big personal influences right there. I just knew it had to be a ‘respect to the foundation’ song, and it was a real joy to hear the lyrics and melody that Desta came with for that tune – on point and a great showcase of his talent as a singer, DJ, lyricist.

If I had to name people that were major influences on me – Roots Foundation, Danny Lemon, Stinky Jim, Kerb, Asterix and DLT are just a few.

Israel – Big up the foundation in Aotearoa. I mean the list goes on from Herbs to the Twelve Tribes band and all my family in those bands.

In this track I mention a lot of selectors I grew up with and watching Dad vibe with, so personally I wanted to send my first fruits out to them, and let them know that the hard work that they go through in buying vinyl, selecting and promoting gigs has paid off, because it has influenced not only me, but a whole generation! And those fruits are ripening now and it is evident with the mass of reggae talent popping up on a daily basis in Aotearoa.

Desta – do you have any advice for up and coming vocalists?  What have been some of the positive lessons you’ve learned so far that you want to share?

If you love it and enjoy it then do it. I found that just sitting in a room and seeing where your voice will take you is the best way to really know how to work it. And you have to try all styles and listen to loads of different music, so go and buy that dollar-fifty CD you saw at the op-shop, chuck it on and try and sing like they do! And even if you don’t like it at first, I’m sure you will start to appreciate how their voice works.  If it really sucks then throw it away, hahaha!

Art – you’ve worked with and mentored a lot of NZ artists and are really committed to forwarding talent in our own country.  Are there any projects or initiatives you would like to see happen in NZ – formally or informally – to help further develop our artists and producers?

Yeah well there is a lot of love for music here and I give thanks for that everyday. Many artists and producers are doing great things with their works and releases – things are really moving from strength to strength, especially with the new and exciting artists coming into the scene here.

I’ve always tried my best to represent the Aotearoa reggae talent that I come across and try to get behind it and push it forwards and onwards to higher heights. Whether it be gigs or releases or working with artists, I think the more works done together the stronger we can build a solid and formidable musical foundation here in Aotearoa.

Art – Do you think there seems to be a bit of a divide between the reggae live band scene vs the sound system scene in NZ?  If so, how do you feel about this?  Do you think this gap needs to be bridged and why?

Yes for sure, I agree. I can’t help but observe things like – at local reggae band gigs, there are often no reggae selectors in the audience, and often selectors wont support local bands on the radio etc. Then at a sound system night or a reggae dance somewhere – often no musicians or bands will be there to support those gigs.

So yeah, I’ve certainly noticed the need to somehow bridge these reggae cultures together – the developments in both areas are moving fast.

Luckily though, this is not always the case – new generations are coming through the scene with positive and supportive attitudes and that is refreshing to see. Selecto’s ‘Punky Reggae Party’, and Iron Will/Riddim Central’s ‘One Foundation’ nights are moving forward with this. Large up. Wellington’s Mayhem Sound is one to look out for too, as well as Israel Starr and Timmy P.

By unifying the musical movements here, I feel that Aotearoa can really rise up as a strong force in the international reggae scene. It’s happening already (the ‘rise up’) for a lot of producers, vocalists, bands and sound systems, and I have a lot of respect for the men and women putting in the hard work to make that happen.

A little bit of overstanding, support, respect and reasoning amongst the different reggae bands and selectors etc here is only going to help forward things. People can help by simply showing some love to others who are doing Jah good works, great stuff is developing in so many different areas of the reggae music scene here.

So you’re off to the Byron Bay Reggae Festival in September – exciting stuff!  What can audiences expect from you there?

Art – Yeah, it’s real exciting!  We’re looking forward to linking with more music heads at the festival and also have a chance to see some world class acts.

We’re also reuniting with Silva Emcee and The Mighty Asterix who is gonna be there too. We’re gonna rep Aotearoa hard out, showcasing the works of some of our greatest talents and also our own works as NEWTOWN SOUND and MC ISRAEL STARR.

And what other projects are you working on for the rest of 2011?

Art – We are about to record a new song. Newtown Sound has a 12″ vinyl release coming out (finally!) – a single from Dam Native. Israel Starr will also be working on Iron Will productions and a Juse 1 collaboration.

Israel – Gigs, more gigs and hitting the studio to give the massive more. But I really want to collaborate with a lot of different artists in all forms of music.

Any last words for the massive?

Art – Link up, we are keen to get busy and forward this ting together.

Please come to our fundraiser party at Havana Bar, One Step Forward, Friday 26 August.  It’s gonna help us get to Byron Bay and if you’ve got some spare change, have a think about chucking it in our koha tin there. We’ll have a few CDs and t-shirts for sale too. DJ Hawk I is going to be selecting too and is one of Wellington’s toughest selectors, so it should be a real good night.

Israel – Bless up and one love, shout out to my boy Ezekiel. And my mum, love you mum!

More info:
Newtown Sound website
Newtown Sound SoundCloud
Israel Starr Facebook

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