CHRIS PHILPOTT talks to Feleti Strickson-Pua – alias MC Sabre of hip-hop group Nesian Mystik – about running the band, their values, and what to expect at their Whangarei concert.

Given his undoubtedly hectic schedule, I was hardly surprised that, when I called Feleti Strickson-Pua, he wasn’t immediately available. But when I finally got hold of him, I was surprised to find it was actually because of the infamous Auckland Power Cut.

“Nice half an hour of work!” he laughs down the phone line. “I was just sitting down for a meeting and then the lights went out!”

Fortunately, the same can‘t be said for Nesian Mystik. The last twelve months have been reasonably quiet, but that’s all about to change with the release of Freshmen, the follow-up album to their critically acclaimed debut Polysaturated, and the start of their first nationwide tour since 2003 – a  tour which is sure to set them squarely in the sights of the New Zealand public.

“We’ve been looking forward to this for so long,” Feleti explains. “Our last tour was three years ago, so we’ve had a lot of time to get more ideas, so for people that have been to see us before, we’re gonna be bringing a lot more.”

Feleti Strickson-Pua makes up one sixth of Nesian Mystik. But while he’s a vital part of one of New Zealand’s biggest groups, he’s part of something much more than just a band, working along with his mates on a record label headed up by Nesian Mystik themselves.

Of course, that has its own benefits.

“We’re a bit more knowledgeable of the industry, but at the same time we’re a lot more excited and we have more of a vision of where we want to go,” he points out. “It’s just something that we enjoy because we know that if things go wrong then they can only be blamed on ourselves, as opposed to someone else doing something wrong and us getting frustrated.”

That level of know-how also flows into touring. “We have a lot more input into what actually happens. We’ve been pretty much involved from the beginning in terms of stage layouts, how many people, who’s gonna be our support, which towns are we going to, and those have all been things that we’ve talked about together and made the decisions together.”

Knuckling down for a nationwide tour is more rewarding than playing support for another act.

“To be honest it’s a lot more fun, because on a lot of those tours you just turn up and you leave.

“But with these tours we’re able to get a lot more into the community and so forth.”

The importance of community is at the core of Nesian Mystik; it’s something they carry with them wherever they go.

“We like to connect with community because it really keeps our music relevant, it keeps what we speak about truthful, and also doesn’t allow us to slack on our morals. Really a lot of the touring and a lot of performance and what we do is relationships, and it’s the best thing, man: just getting to meet new people around the country.”

It’s obvious that Feleti feels strongly about their position being one that they can use to give something back to their people, and having their music reach smaller markets, like Whangarei, is a key to succeeding at that.

“That’s where it really matters, because people can really make a difference in those areas,” he explains, “opposed to, say, in other areas such as Auckland, where it can be quite industrybased, what happens. But in the other regions it really can be quite heavily influenced by the people, your common community.”

At the same time, trying to help out up-andcoming artists and giving local acts some of their time as they pass through the area is also important. “That’s one of the cool things, getting to catch up with the local groups and really touch base with them, and see where they’re at. I guess that’s what we wanna do, just get out there and say ‘hey, this can be done, and if we can do it, then you definitely can do it’.”

Of course, the focus right now is on the upcoming nationwide tour.

“With the last album we wrote songs that were purely for listening to and hadn’t been roadtested. This time around we wrote songs but we also performed them a lot of times before we actually put them on the album, so we’re really getting something that will be cool ‘live’.”

“More than just the musicianship being great, you’re gonna have a fun time. All the little treats that we’ve put into the tour performance, things that people haven’t seen before, some talents that people didn’t know that people in the band had, and the biggest thing, just having an awesome, entertaining night.”

Strickson-Pua acknowledges that Whangarei is a favourite spot for Nesian Mystik.

“Every time we’ve been up there it’s just a cool crowd man, everyone just gets into it, enjoys it. And I think that’s why we’ve put it as the icing on the cake for us, the last performance of the tour, so it’s definitely gonna be the best.”