27 Mar 2019

Immigrant song: New Zealanders making music that matters

From Nine To Noon, 11:07 am on 27 March 2019

Young immigrants are making some of the most vital and important music in New Zealand right now. RNZ Music’s Kirsten Johnstone highlights four of the best.

Unchained XL, Illbaz, CHAII and Raiza Biza

Unchained XL, Illbaz, CHAII and Raiza Biza Photo: Supplied / RNZ



1. CHAII - 'Digebasse'


'Digebasse' by NZ-Persian artist CHAII sounds unlike anything else in NZ right now. It’s raw but polished, with the swagger and political punch of Sri Lankan rapper M.I.A.


CHAII, who raps in both English and Farsi, came to NZ from Iran aged eight and learned English, in part, by rapping along to Eminem.


“The song is about shining a positive light on the Middle East,” CHAII told RNZ Music’s Yadana Saw, “I just wanted to show some scenery and some colour and people having a good time. Just people like everyone else.


“Hatred comes from misinformation … That was what I was originally trying to stand up for [in the song]. The only way you can beat that is through positivity, through showing and educating.”


And after the Christchurch terror attack? “That message stays the same, only [it’s] quite a bit more relevant now.”


2. Mo’Muse and Raiza Biza - 'Still'


Mo’Muse, short for Mohamed Muse, is a 24-year-old Auckland-based pharmacist and rapper with socially conscious lyrics and an old-school '90s hip-hop sound.


His family fled Somalia when he was only one, an event he raps about on his track ‘1993’. They made it to Yemen, then Kenya, where they were given asylum in NZ. He comes from a Muslim family. 


‘Still’, which came out in December, features a bluesy hook from Hamilton-based rapper and singer Raiza Biza, who himself was a refugee.


“‘Still’ is probably one of my more introspective tracks,” says Mo’Muse, “I wanted to dissect the many points of conflict in my personal life, and where it meets with society and what I see.”


He avoids sermonising, or “being preachy” saying that he likes to give “thought pit stops”, “Like some of these things are still happening, but why?”

3. Unchained XL - 'My Only Home' feat. Genesis Elijah & Femi Ashiru

Unchained XL, real name Hugh Ozumba, is a UK-born Nigerian who was brought up in NZ. Originally a Christian metal artist, over the last couple of years he’s shifted his musical attention to Afrobeat hip-hop.


He’s talked about how important it is to bring all the elements of his identity together and express them musically, and he’s also very active in bringing NZ’s African community together.


His new EP, The Migrant Mind is dedicated to “the outsider, the foreigner, the immigrant, the refugee, the other” and Unchained XL says the song ‘My Only Home’ deals with the issue of borders and migration.


4. High Beams Ft Che-Fu - 'Sky High'


High Beams is a collaboration between Hamilton rapper and singer Raiza Biza, and Auckland-based producer Illbaz and rapper Melodownz. The chilled, jazz influenced ‘Sky High’ also features elder statesman of NZ hip-hop Che-Fu.


All three members of High Beams have heritage from outside of New Zealand. Raiza Biza was born in Rwanda, Illbaz is originally from Palestine and Melodownz is of Polynesian heritage.


Though not all their lyrics are about the politics of being an immigrant, Raiza Biza says it’s an experience they all share.


“We see and deal with these issues daily. Most of our common ground lies in what makes us different, but at the end of the day, we are young people who want to be happy. No different to other young people.


“We like to have fun but not at the expense of being true to ourselves.”


  • Hatred comes from misinformation says Persian-Kiwi rapper CHAII
  • High Beams ft. Che Fu live at RNZ
  • VIDEO: Unchained XL performs 'Weight on My Bars' live at RNZ