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UHP front man still fiercely fighting for Māori sovereignty through music

UHP, also known as Upper Hutt Posse, have been at it since the 1980s with their "no surrender" hip hop, honouring Te Tiriti and promoting Māori sovereignty.

Thirty years later and they've just released a new album Haualmost 20 years in the making. The album was celebrated with a launch in Auckland earlier this month where Te Ao with Moana reporter Jessica Tyson caught up with frontman Dean Hapeta, Te Kupu.

Te Kupu, 56, of Ngāti Huia, says Hau is a double album incorporating seven dub versions and six instrumentals of 13 songs.

“I'm joined on vocals by fellow co-founders; Blue Dredd I Knight & MC Wiya, and also Ahurei, my youngest daughter,” says Te Kupu.

The making of the album traverses decades; the title track Hau took some 17 years to be completed.

"The album's opener, Preeach, is conscious rap incorporating part of my acceptance speech when UHP were inducted into Te Whare Taonga Puoro o Aotearoa (NZ Music Hall of Fame) in 2018," says Te Kupu.

There is also Patua Te Pāwhera, a te reo Māori anti-rape song containing interpolations from Nation of Islam's Minister Louis Farrakhan.

"The song had to be done. Patua Te Pawhera, rape is a problem on this planet. A dang serious problem happens every day,” he says.

E Tū

One of the first hits from UHP was E Tū in 1988, the first rap song to hit the New Zealand charts.

“We needed a song that was saying to Māori people be proud of your ancestors who fought against colonialism," Te Kupu said.

“It blew people away. People loved it but then people hated it. And there were people that scoffed at it. It got a whole range of emotions.”

Te Kupu was 19 when he started UHP. It was a reggae outfit back then but quickly changed to rap.

“The thing about rap was rap was in your face, rap is straight from the heart. I wanted that directness man. I was like 'this racist world has to be confronted'.”


Racism is Te Kupu’s favourite topic to talk about after his own experiences growing up in Upper Hutt.

“I was called a n*****r when I was around eight years old crossing the road, I was called a n*****. I didn't know what the hell is a n***** but it was a bit of a worry because that bikey almost ran me over."

Te Kupu's burning sense of injustice grew through his teenage years with more experiences like scrapping at the skate park in Upper Hutt.

“The cops would arrive, arrest us, and maybe grab one or two of the white guys but at court on Monday or Tuesday, there was none of them there. It was just us who were arrested for disorderly behaviour fighting in public.”

Te Kupu and Moana Jackson worked together to investigate why Māori were so overrepresented in prisons. Photo source: File

His Heroes

As Te Kupu grew older he started to draw on some big names for inspiration.

“Syd Jackson was my hero at that point. He still is because we heard of Syd's activism, radicalism. I was like, 'yeah man, he's just the role model for me'.”

Syd's brother Moana Jackson, the visionary and justice advocate, was another one of Te Kupu's heroes. In the 1980s Te Kupu and Moana Jackson worked together to investigate why Māori were so overrepresented in prisons.

“We had to listen to a lot of pain - people speaking about the criminal justice system. And then at times people saying things such as, ‘Well, it's Maori, it's our fault, we did this, we didn't have to do that’. And listening to things you don't agree with.”

Moana Jackson was and continues to be a huge influence on Te Kupu's music and lyrics. He helped Te Kupu write some of lyrics in E Tū.

"Kia Kaha was a phrase that I heard used a lot when I was working with Moana around the country and E Tu."

Moana also advised Te Kupu to include the names of influential Māori leaders in the waiata including Te Kooti Arikirangi Te Turuki and Moana-Nui-a-Kiwa Ngarimu.

“These ancestors in particular… fought violently against Euro settler colonialism.”

Speaking at Moana Jackon's tangihanga

Te Kupu spoke at Moana Jackson's tangihanga earlier this year. In his speech, he said a verse from the first song Preeach in his new album. He didn't leave out any swear words.

“I had to think, am I going to sensor myself at this tangi? Am I going to sensor myself when Moana’s asked me to speak? He knows my lyrics well.”

UHP in Detroit backstage with Flavor Flav of Public Enemy. Source: File

Growing up, Te Kupu also looked up to African American leaders Malcolm X who spoke about the need for Black empowerment as well as Louis Farrakhan, the leader of the Nation of Islam. In 1990 UHP was invited to play for them in Detroit.

During the trip, Te Kupu filmed a music documentary. Ten years later he went back to film a second part that turned into what he calls a rapumentary, visiting more than 20 countries to speak to poets, rappers and activists.

“There are three topics; One police brutality, two racism, three globalisation/colonialism,” he says.

“The most amazing moment from memory is, there's many but just being in Palestine. Palestine for me has been the location for struggle on the planet.”

He's started recording these moments in a new book Ngātahi: Know the Links.

The legacy of Upper Hutt Posse - Native Affairs 2018

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Fiery speech

In 2018 UHP won the Vodafone NZ Music Awards legacy award. Te Kupu initially wanted to reject it but having the opportunity to speak on live television inspired him to accept.

“There was some fall out afterward with the media saying I did a fiery speech or whatever. Yeah, of course it was fiery. Why not?”

Hau is available now online and will be released on vinyl this month. Te Kupu says he has no plans for retirement.

“I want to continue doing what I'm doing? Because as long as I'm functional, I shall, unless this world, somehow miraculously changes I can't see myself doing anything different from what I'm doing and have been doing.”