18 August, Under the Dome, Hastings By Rosheen FitzGerald
At some point last week, like a puffball, a twenty metre geodesic dome mushroomed into being in Hastings’ Albert Square. On Friday night it was transformed with red carpet and glittering fairy lights into the venue for the annual Hastings City Celebration Awards. Harnessing the collective goodwill of a number of local businesses, movers and shakers quaffed bubbles, sampled the delights of an increasingly diverse range of dining options and clapped one another on the backs for wresting control of the narrative and righting the course of public perception of what Hastings is, and isn’t.
Because the Business Association are a charitable bunch, they then turned use of the Dome over to Zeal, a national group with the lofty goal of providing a creative outlet for youth. On Saturday they showcased young local bands, giving teens a low cost alternative to whatever it is that they usually get up to on a Saturday night…vaping and sending one another pictures of their genitals, should the mainstream media be believed. And on Monday, they invited tried and tested Hawke’s Bay performers to entertain locals on their lunchbreak.
If you’ve got functional ears and are not agoraphobic, then, chances are, you’ve heard Arahi before. He’s been doing the hard yards – busking, playing at open mics and events – at the head of Suzy Blue, and more recently as a solo artist.
He cuts an unimposing figure in stonewashed jeans and lace up boots. There’s no artifice here, just melodious guitar in communion with mellifluous voice to produce soulful Americana infused with melancholy. He’s a man out of time, like a young Dylan, his sound evoking a nostalgia so potent that you can taste it. Earnest, thoughtful lyrics speak of a cautious optimism – looking forward to a future brimming with possibility as well as espousing a healthy regard for the shoulders on which he stands. There’s an overarching theme of enquiry – searching for meaning and belonging, most pointed in The Purpose of this Man.
Although he pays homage to the golden age of rock and roll, and the undoubtable influence of the country that spawned it, there’s an unmistakable connection to whenua in his music. Veins of tension between the pull of home, and a wanderlust for greener pastures run across songs. It’s an itch that’s about to be scratched – he kicks off his tour of New Zealand at Common Room next month.
I can’t help but wonder once the rest of the country experiences what he’s got to offer, will they want to give him back? And will he want to return? Because, despite the allure of the dome, the lack of a cover charge, and the heartfelt talent on display; an audience barely materialised. Attendance peaked at around seven people (and a rat-like, bulbous-eyed dog), at least 50% of whom ruminated on the cud of their smartphone feeds.
It’s all well and good spearheading initiatives and batting about buzz words like urban regeneration, but as a culture consuming public we need to support the artists we have, or risk their loss. There’s a reason that the Business Association’s Hastings CBD Vibrancy Plan links to a 404 page at Council, and that is one of follow through. We’ve got all the makings of a great little city right here, but in order to create an environment for art, music and culture to thrive we have to first get off our arses, and open our eyes and ears to what’s out there waiting to be heard.
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