It has been heartening recently to see that C4 has begun to transmit music television twenty four hours a day. It is one more shop window for local musicians and fledgling bands to play and display their song writing. One more battle ground to fight the good fight for the cause of original New Zealand music.

C4 along with Alt TV and Maori Television actively promotes Kiwi music. Local music is virtually non existent in the programming of TVNZ and TV3. And in the Beyonce butt shaking playlists of MTV and Juice TV you can still see the raging head and the long tail of cultural imperialism which has until recently shaped the profile of the New Zealand music industry.

Though we encourage our young songwriters to get out there and take the music industry by the throat the fact is that huge market forces are shaping the global landscape in which our aspiring musicians operate. Our valiant kiwi musicians are still disadvantaged when compared with the huge international US promotional machines behind the world’s mega stars.

Stranded here in paradise we have been constantly under invasion. If it’s not the early colonising Missionaries it’s twenty first century corporate record company giants; we are dancing to someone else’s drum.

The reasons that New Zealand music is always struggling for profile run deep. Apart from the sheer scale of modern media driven American culture one of the problems is that mainstream New Zealand audiences  still crave the exotic over the authentic – the notion that everything exciting in music is happening somewhere else.

From the time of The Jazz Singer, the first talking movie  in 1927, New Zealand began to grow its love affair with American popular culture.

World War Two saw New Zealand host 100,000 American service personnel for training and r’n’r – in the oft quoted dictum the Americans were “over paid, over sexed and over here”.  In 1949 the first song composed, recorded and produced in New Zealand was released. The now iconic Blue Smoke was a lilting song in waltz time with a bluesy sentimental lyric and pedal steel guitar line which was a direct copy of early American infused Hawaiian popular music. It had its roots in American musical tastes which arrived with the US troops up until the end of the war.

During the war years the ports of Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch became gate ways through which American popular music culture burrowed its way further into the hearts and minds of New Zealanders.

After the war Christchurch had a particularly interesting role to play in the arrival of American music. In the 1960’s the American Deep Freeze Base at Harewood became the last stopover before USAF aircraft took off for the Antarctic ice.

For the local girls there were men in USAF uniform who smoked Marlboros and spoke like James Dean. For Cantabrian musicians there was something even more interesting – American servicemen on leave were visiting local night clubs like Mojos and Surf City and leaving behind vinyl Atlantic 45s of Arthur Connolly and Wilson Pickett.

Christchurch club musicians were some of the first New Zealand players to hear records of Bo Diddley and Otis Redding. Late night conversations amongst musicians turned to the roots of the music – blues, gospel and soul.The names of American soul and bluesmen like James Brown and Robert Jonhnson became part of the musical vernacular.  

Also arriving through the Deep Freeze airbase were the first Fender Stratocaster guitars and amplifiers, Vox organs and Fender Jazz bass guitars. Local musicians latched onto the new American  music, cultural sensibilities and musical technologies. The next decade saw Christchurch (the Liverpool of the South Pacific) spawn some of New Zealand’s most successful and informed popular performers including Ray Columbus and the Invaders. (Invaders bassist Billy Karaitiana bought his first Fender bass guitar from an American airman. Billy is now one of the key figures in Maori music production).

Both Columbus and Max Merrit and the Meteors played the famous Bird Dog night club at the airbase, both had successful careers in Australia and later led the Southern Invasion of musicians north into Auckland in the late 1960s with a new repertoire employing the rhythms and the vocal styles of the American pop explosion.

Ray Columbus, Max Merrit and other New Zealand pop music pioneers like Dinah Lee are still active in the music business. Ray Columbus still promotes New Zealand music, Max Merrit (writer of the classic gold hit Slippin' Away) still tours and last week Midge Marsden, who made his name in the Wellington based band Bari and the Breakaways in the 1960s,  released a new CD – with re recorded versions of his best songs and a stunning swamp laden Hammond Gamble single called Waiting For Rain.  

The APRA (Australasia Performing Right Association) Silver Scroll Awards are being judged at the moment – for the first time this is being done online – any New Zealand musician belonging to APRA can vote for this year’s best song by going to the APRA website. Among the 2007 finalists are Evermore and Liam Finn.

Whichever song wins it will stand on the shoulders of those great Silver Scroll songs which have gone before them. Both Columbus and Merrit have been past winners. Our own songs and stories will win the battle against the tsunami of overseas trash that is sent our way by major record companies and gobbled up by local music media. For our Kiwi battler musicians the road is still not easy. But history reminds us that, right from the get go, it never was.