Two teenagers from Otara, Brenda and Hassanah, were the voices behind the 1995 song, In the Neighbourhood. Released under the name ‘Sisters Underground’ their song made the NZ Top 10 on release, hit the charts in Australia, and went on to become an iconic part of New Zealand music history.
And yet, the song’s success came as something of a surprise to the duo who, years later, are still coming to terms with the resounding impact ‘In the Neighbourhood’ had on Aotearoa at the time.
“When that came out, it was a very proud moment,” Upper Hutt Posse member Teremoana Rapley says. “It felt like I wasn’t alone, because up to that point, there were no sisters to the left or to the right of me.”
Sarah Tamaira AKA Voodoo Child shared a similar experience: “You know, when you’re a young girl those kinds of things mean everything to you, seeing brown faces on the TV.”
The song carries with it a strong sense of identity. It was funded by a Manukau City Council grant, and the music video was filmed in various locations throughout Otara, including their own homes, friends and families.
Thinking upon her lyrics, Hassanah explains: “I was really trying to connect the hip hop that I admired to what we would do every day. I wanted it to reflect social inequalities… the true enemy in my mind at that time was, you know, the system.”
This mix of hip hop and the everyday might be why the song has meant so much to so many people for so long. When Sisters Underground performed the song to close the 2013 Sliver Scroll Awards, they were shocked at their reception. People were dancing, singing all the lyrics, even crying. A testament, perhaps, to the importance of representation, highlighting as Hassanah says, “what it meant for them to see just regular kids from the kinds of neighbourhoods they came from on TV.”
In this episode, Brenda and Hassanah share their thoughts and memories of In the Neighbourhood. Exploring themes of Pasifika representation, family grief, and what it was like to be two teens rolling in the Otara neighbourhood.
NZ Hip Hop Stand Up was made possible by the RNZ/NZ On Air Innovation Fund.