What's Be Happen? A Bakhtinian Analysis of Aotearoa New Zealand's First Pacific Reggae Album

Turner, Elizabeth Anne
Harvey, Sharon
Hoar, Peter
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Doctor of Philosophy
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Auckland University of Technology

This thesis presents an analysis of Herbs’ record album What’s Be Happen? The album has been recognised in Aotearoa New Zealand for being at the forefront of Pacific reggae, for its ground-breaking social commentary on important issues and conflicts in New Zealand in the 1970s and early 1980s, and for the culturally and historically significant themes it addresses. The six-track album was released in 1981 in a period of social and political conflict. There were protests over race relations and the treatment of migrants from the Pacific Islands, over the historic and ongoing loss of Māori lands, and against the scheduled tour of New Zealand by a racially-selected rugby team from apartheid South Africa. The campaigns for change in this period were struggles over human rights, associated ethical values, and the kind of society people wanted New Zealand to be. Situated in the broad field of applied linguistics, the thesis also draws on other areas such as the study of popular music to present an analysis and interpretation of the ways in which the album constructs, comments on and contests political and social events and conditions at that time. The thesis is underpinned by Mikhail Bakhtin’s philosophy of language and discourse that conceptualises utterances as ethical acts, and by Bakhtin’s overarching notion of dialogism, which conceives meaning as a relational phenomenon contingent on social and cultural context. The thesis mobilises Bakhtin’s categories of narrative style in the novel and his concepts of the chronotope, heteroglossia and polyphony in the analysis of narrative form, language choices, and aspects of Herbs’ performance. These Bakhtinian concepts and analytical tools, in their encounter with other theories and concepts in the thesis, are central to the analysis of constructions of social commentary, resistance and protest in Herbs’ album. The analysis shows that meaning is generated by a network of inter-connected, dialogic relationships in and between Herbs’ music, lyrical content, the form and use of language including the compositional structure of the lyrics, aspects of performed form, text and images on the album cover, the order of the songs on the two sides of the record, and the relationship of these features to the historical context. The thesis identifies five key themes in the album: resistance, oppression, power and the struggle for liberation, spirituality, and identity, of which the dominant theme is resistance. The study is a contribution to the analysis and appreciation of the cultural importance of Herbs in New Zealand and the political salience of this album.

Popular music , Protest and resistance , New Zealand , Herbs , Mikhail Bakhtin , Dialogism , Critical cultural analysis , Utterances as ethical acts
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