Today's hip-hop battles have interesting similarities with the art of traditional Samoan oratory (lauga), says South Auckland music producer Anonymouz, aka Matthew Faiumu Salapu.
South Auckland music producer Matthew Faiumu Salapu aka Anonymouz is bringing together rappers, poets and Sāmoan orator chiefs (tulāfale) for the upcoming Auckland Festival show 4 Tha Lumana'i – a live performance backed by video, and hopes to spark a conversation between the past and the future.
Salapu's father was a tulāfale, but as a kid it took him a while to figure it out: "I distinctly remember going to bed at night and in the lounge or the kitchen, I can hear my dad murmuring to himself. It just sounded like a whole lot of gibberish.
"We'd be in the car having family conversations. His lips would be moving and you could tell he was half in the conversations we were having in the car. He was practising something or reciting something.
"Sure enough at the end of a family function or church gathering … and before you know it, the shirt comes off and he's got his staff in his hand and he belts out this oratory."
Salapu draws parallels between Samoan oratory and hip-hop battles: In a battle two crews set up on opposite sides of a room with the best rappers matching wits and trading rhymes; in traditional Samoan oratory, the strongest speakers of a group spar in a rich "high-end" language of time-honoured similes and metaphors which is distinct from everyday conversational Samoan.
Like contemporary battle rap, Samoan oratory requires improvisational and strategic skills.
"There's a lot of linguistic parallels between the written and freestyle rap scene and traditional [Samoan] oratory where there is a massive amount of memorisation as well as an ability to freestyle in the moment."
But there is a crucial difference between the two art forms.
While battle rappers use language to disrespect and create distance between themselves and the other crew, the language of Samoan oratory is generous at heart – "using words to lift the other side up" – Salapu says.
4 Tha Lumana'i is on at the Māngere Arts Centre on 23 and 24 March as part of the Whānui programme in the Auckland Art Festival.