“It’s crazy… I honestly thought I had no chance” says Troy Kingi, upon accepting the 2020 Taite Music Prize.

Music · 4 minWhat’s Up With… Troy KingiWATCH THE FULL 11th ANNUAL TAITE MUSIC PRIZE 2020 PRESENTATION NOW.This article was in made in support of New Zealand Music Month. You can find out more now at nzmusicmonth.co.nz.Troy Kingi has been named as the recipient of the 2020 Taite Music Prize.”This year’s recipient of the Taite Music Prize is an actor and musician who wears a lot of hats…” explained award presenter and prime minister Jacinda Ardern.That’s certainly one way to describe the 35 year old Kingi, who is well known throughout New Zealand for not only his incredible music but also his great acting skills. The northland-native has starred in such films as Te Arepa Kahi’s Mt. Zion and Taika Waititi’s Hunt for the Wilderpeople.

Kingi is currently a third of the way through his ambitious goal of releasing ten albums in ten years, with all ten being in a different genre of music.The first album of the project, the roots-inspired two-disc album Guitar Party at Uncle’s Bach, was released in 2017. Kingi and his band The Electric Haka Boogie decamped from their Northland base to Lyttelton and the Sitting Room studio of engineer/producer Ben Edwards to record the album. Edwards has produced roots recordings in the past with people like The EasternMarlon Williams and Aldous Harding.Next came Shake That Skinny Ass All The Way To Zygertron – Whilst listed as an R&B/Soul album, it’s more of a combination of those genres with 70’s psychedelic-funk influences throughout. Kingi’s unparalleled guitar playing skills and vast vocal range caught the attention of many throughout the country. Songs like Grandma’s Rocket Poem and Aztechknowledgey gained Kingi both airplay and awards, both songs are still high in popularity today.

Troy Kingi tunes his guitar during soundcheck for a RBMP show in 2019.
Troy Kingi tunes his guitar during soundcheck for a RBMP show in 2019.© RED BULL NEW ZEALAND

Reggae album Holy Colony Burning Acres is Kingi’s third full studio album release and draws on influences from reggae icons such as The Congos and Peter Tosh. It’s a deep, spiritual roots-reggae protest album steeped in peace-loving Nyabinghi Rastafarianism and woven through with indigenous storytelling from around the world, most notably Maori.The inclusion of politically motivated lyrics, such as Colour of My Skin’s “we are statistics now, just numbers in the native roll” and theme songs about the murder of Aboriginal Australians and West Papuans’ bid for independence certainly catch the listener’s attention.The Te Arawa, Ngāpuhi and Te Whānau-ā-Apanui descendant lives in the Bay of Islands with his wife, Huia, and five children. Kingi regularly practices the customs of his culture (performing karakia to Tangaroa before diving for kai moana and to Ranginui and Tawhirimatea before catching flights) and says it was easy to tap into such themes as race, colonialism and introduced religion.

Troy Kingi performs at the RBMP: Years Gone By - Auckland show.
Troy Kingi performs at the RBMP: Years Gone By – Auckland show.© RED BULL NEW ZEALAND

“I’m not the most politically minded of people, but there are some things that just need to be said. Sometimes, I’m not even sure I’m the person who needs to be saying them, but someone needs to and that’s what I’ve done” says Kingi.The songs – backed by stunning 12-piece band The Upperclass and impeccable 70s reggae production that’s reminiscent of The Upsetters and The Abyssinians – such as Ethiopia and First Nation, are more likely to call for unity and stress resilience than cry rebellion.Kingi knows that, come next year, his decade-long project will mean he’ll move on to another genre and another album, but he hopes these protest songs will remain relevant:“For sure, I’m proud of the album. Even though it feels as if I’m doing something and then moving on quickly to the next thing, I’ve put a lot of time and effort into the writing on Holy Colony Burning Acres and I do want them to have longevity”

Troy Kingi performs at the RBMP: Years Gone By - Wellington show.
Troy Kingi performs at the RBMP: Years Gone By – Wellington show.© RED BULL NEW ZEALAND

As part of his award package, Kingi has won studio recording time at Red Bull Studios, as well as a cash prize.Red Bull had even more reason to celebrate the awards ceremony, with Red Bull Music Academy alumni Repulsive Woman being awarded the Auckland Live Best Independent Debut prize for her album Relief.

Repulsive Woman at the Red Bull Music Academy in Berlin, Germany in 2018.
Repulsive Woman at the Red Bull Music Academy in Berlin, Germany in 2018.
Repulsive Woman at the Red Bull Music Academy in Berlin, Germany in 2018.
Repulsive Woman at the Red Bull Music Academy in Berlin, Germany in 2018.

The songs on Relief are stripped back to their bare essentials, centring on Millie Lovelock’s sincere lyrical and songwriting skills. These skills are strengthened by inventive musical arrangements and production. On Soft Borders, for example, violent violin squawks add to the tension.Repulsive Woman received the opportunity to perform live via Auckland Live and also a cash prize.