Last week the finalists for the 2016 New Zealand Music Awards were announced. These awards, also known as the Tui’s honor the best music to come out of New Zealand for the year just gone, with musicians and music industry-types a-like gathering at Vector Arena for a congratulatory piss up and schmooze in celebration.
Last year I had a gripe with these awards. There was the terribly overblown and drawn out ceremony with a terrible MC, some weird nominations, most notably Unknown Mortal Orchestra in the solo male category, and the embarrassing treatment by the host broadcaster of the Maori album category which saw TV audiences miss out on the awarding of this award in what was one of the highlights of an otherwise dull occasion. Thankfully, casting my eye down the list of this year’s finalists, there seems to be more diversity stylistically from Aaradhna to Fat Freddy’s Drop to the Phoenix Foundation, and greater competition in categories, most notably album of the year, best female solo artist, and best alternative album. Last year we pretty much knew Broods were going to clean up, and they did winning four awards. This year they again feature heavily with five nominations, and they might again clean up, however, at least this time there is some competition for them and it won’t be such a walk in the park for the duo from Nelson.
Of the nominations, it was great to see perennial favorites Fat Freddy’s Drop get nominated for their fantastic album “Bays”, which was, in my opinion, one of the great New Zealand albums of 2015. While, alongside this, nothing pleased me more than seeing the SWIDT crew from Onehunga get recognition for their album “SmokeyGotBeatz Presents: SWIDT vs EVERYBODY”, one of the best hip-hop releases to come out of New Zealand in a long time. It was also nice to see alternative acts like Leisure and Scuba Diva get nominated by the judging panel that at times can be guilty of ignoring what is happening in the underground and alternative music scenes.
At this year’s ceremony, one of New Zealand’s greatest singer-songwriters Bic Runga will be inducted into the New Zealand Music Hall of Fame. When I heard the announcement my immediate reaction was I thought she was already in? Well, no, she isn’t, and it is wonderful that she is getting the recognition she so thoroughly deserves nearly twenty years on from the release of her stunning debut “Drive”. I know I am certainly not alone in looking forward to seeing her perform some of her best songs on the night of the awards.
Like all award nominations, there are always some notable omissions, and this year is no different with the NZMA’s. Firstly, I was a bit shocked to not see Bailey Wiley nominated for her stunning release “Still On My Mind”. She could have fit into the best female solo artist or breakthrough artist of the year categories easily; especially given she has one of the best voices going around at the moment in this country. Meanwhile, there were also no nods for Yumi Zouma for their outstanding album “Yoncalla”, or indeed Yoko-Zuma who should have walked into the breakthrough artist category.
Along with these omissions, there was one glaringly obvious absentee and one which had me confused and annoyed. In my opinion, Average Rap Band released the best New Zealand album this year with their amazing “El Sol”. Its quality is so evident that it baffles me that anyone remotely knowledgeable about hip-hop could have ignored it when considering the best hip-hop album category, or indeed, but perhaps unsurprisingly best album of 2016. When I tried to come up with explanations for Tom Scott’s latest project being passed over for a nomination, two things came to mind immediately. Firstly, I question whether the industry here has a negative attitude towards Tom Scott leading him to be left out of contention, I mean the two have not always seen eye to eye have they. And, secondly, and perhaps the most likely reason for “El Sol’s” omission, was this album not nominated because it did not see a physical release and was released independently by Scott himself for free on Bandcamp?
Given this situation, if it was excluded from judging because of this reason, why is it that the biggest music awards ceremony in the country are so far behind the times when it comes to not acknowledging music that is released independently online by artists via their own websites or Bandcamp, and especially if that music is released for free. Considering so much music in New Zealand is released online now, and indeed, independently by the artists themselves, surely it is time the NZMA’s recognised this fact by having an awards category for online releases, or even independent releases. By not, I believe they are shooting themselves in the foot big time, as how then can you say that these awards truly represent the best in New Zealand music in 2016? I reached out to the NZMA people for comment on the matter of online digital releases and whether they are considered for judging, but have yet to have a reply back. If they are not, one can only hope that in the future some sort of category to acknowledge this way of releasing music comes in to force, otherwise we risk having the same questions asked each year of the awards, and great albums like “El Sol” will continue to be passed over for nomination.
In conclusion, aside from a couple of rumblings and notable omissions, they seem to have gotten the nominations mostly right this year, something which bodes well for a great celebration on awards night in November. Given the bar was set so low last year, there can be only one way to go in 2016 and we all know which direction that is.