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Pop CultureFebruary 2, 2018

‘They didn’t disempower us after all’: Coco Solid drops a Waitangi Day mixtape


Jessie Moss talks to Coco Solid about her upcoming mixtape, what Waitangi Day means to her, and how she stays cool on these increasingly muggy days.

In the middle of the hottest week Aotearoa has seen in years, somewhere in Auckland Coco Solid is getting a lot of things done. I first met Coco in the aisles of Newtown New World. Coco, who’s a little shorter than me, couldn’t reach the olive oil and I just happened to be at hand. Several more New World and Newtown encounters later, I caught up with her in the traditionally lo-fi way: three phones, one on speaker, another recording.

Coco Solid (aka Jessica Hansell) is a multi-disciplinary artist originally from South Auckland. As a Māori, Samoan, German woman who is a rapper, producer, essayist, comedy-writer and comic-maker, walking multiple paths in life is just how she is. It is life.

This week she is immersed in writing the animated series she created, Aroha Bridge, while simultaneously tying up the last tracks of her mixtape COKES. The result of more than seven years’ off-and-on work, Coco connected with countless producers, MCs and collaborators to create something which is by, for, and reflective of her communities. If previous releases from her outfits Parallel Dance Ensemble and Badd Energy are anything to go by, we best pay attention to COKES.


The Spinoff: How’s it up there? 

Coco Solid: It’s pretty crazy, pretty hectic. I’m right in the middle of crunch time with my cartoon Aroha Bridge, getting it ready. It goes to TV later in the year on Māori TV, getting all of the scripting phase finished before we voice it in March. Animation is brutal. 

And then you’ve got COKES next week.

Yeah whose stupid idea was that? But I promised to finally do it, so yeah.

What’s on top this week to get it finished?

Mixing and mastering the last of the tracks and getting all of the artwork and online stuff in order.

Is it super hot up there?

It’s so hot, so humid, I have two pedestal fans blasting me now like a music video.

Sounds dreamy.

Pretty sweaty.

This mixtape has been a while in the making. Parallel Dance Ensemble last released in 2011 and Badd Energy on Flying Nun a few years later. What’s been happening since then?

Pacific Rims was my last tape in 2011. I did a couple of Parallel Dance records which put me on the map outside of underground music here a bit. Then I founded Badd Energy and we did the whole Flying Nun thing. I decided to study and write but I put out the odd solo jam when the urge took me (‘Oh My Zeus’, ‘Heaven’s Gate’). I went off music and just dabbled after that. I stayed doing cameos outside of New Zealand – Tim Paris, Lorenz Rhode, that SSR track with Grandmaster Caz.

Then my Portuguese friend Violet did an all-women rework of the Underground Resistance track ‘Transition’ featuring me, Nightwave, Nancy Whang, Mamacita and AMOR for International Women’s Day. We met at the Red Bull Music Academy and that track went bonkers. I’ve been doing my Kuini Qontrol club night and DJ mixes this whole time on the low. 

I actually almost backed out of putting COKES out, but I asked for a sign. Then I got an email that night saying Vogue and Armani wanted to used ‘Shopping Cart’ in their recent ad campaign, so my Savemart ass got my shit together. So no solo Coco project for ages, but music is always there. Whether I like it or not.

So this is a big release for you. How has the material come together?

There are about a dozen tracks spanning from 2012 right up till last week. It’s definitely been a real process and I didn’t want to put out the record until I felt like I was ready, in a good head space. And I feel like I’ve got my mana and my wairua up. I’ve got enough energy for that medium now and what comes with it. It’s definitely been a process though. I genuinely had a spiritual allergy to it, the culture, the rivalry, the corny people. 

I’m pretty sure that whenever you do anything, the people are ready for it. Whether it is your essay writing, scripts for screen or musically.

I was all good being an artist in other areas, but with music it just got to be such a loaded thing for me.  I felt uninspired so I dipped out and weaponised myself elsewhere until I liked it again. So I’m really happy now returning, it’s not urgent it’s just life. There’s a few ideologies, movements and subcultures that make me feel a lot safer to do what I want to do. Ironically what I’ve always been doing but people locally are a bit more equipped now.

And of course, you’re talking about the massive awakening among the masses. The almost unstoppable avalanche of people who are now and still standing up to the sexism and racism across the board in the entertainment and arts worlds. The conversations you started with the Equalise My Vocals project, supported by the Spinoff, are being built on a year later by the likes of  Jana Whitta with events like Girls Rock! Camp Aotearoa, and discussions such as Sing It Sister. You’ve engaged and perhaps enraged many.

I feel like I’m 40 billion percent here for this shift. I think there is a definite reason why I was one of the catalytic people locally starting shit, because I knew what I was talking about and losing approval isn’t new to me. Aside from all the other voices Equalise My Vocals was amplifying, I thought of the next me coming up and I was like, ‘I want this bullshit to change for you’. I don’t want this new wave of artists to come up in a local environment that isn’t ready to have hard conversations, so sometimes we have to start them ourselves.

Tell me about the concept of the mixtape?

I’ve been nicknamed Coco Solid for half my life, but I noticed Cokes is what my toughest friends call me. And being Cokes is harder than Coco I think. It’s essentially a record but because of the nature of it spanning eight years-worth of my secret material, for me it feels like a mixtape. It’s just going to be a digital download. I like the way that things are released now with heaps of agency, autonomy and randomness. I will always be a rando at heart. 

In real early days, I felt like a punk to be doing everything outside of traditional frameworks because I didn’t have the resources, the knowledge or the community. And then once I got those things, there was a real toxic pressure, a real keeping up with milestones, the strategy. There is this kind of low-pressure sovereignty that I’m expressing by just saying ‘I’ve done this work, it’s here, you can hear it’. When I open myself up to that kind of serendipity, it serves me much better.

You’ve stepped off the treadmill?

Maybe? We’re getting it fed to us every day, the status anxiety and that performance anxiety and ‘how productive are you?’ and ‘how gratified and liked are you?’ and ‘what are you working on?’. For me that’s not the kaupapa of the project, it’s been slow and humbling. So I think I might just leave that entire framework, that entire ideology of how artists need to brand themselves, I’m going to put that behind me.

I put this record out for people who know my voice and if they need it they’ve got it. I’m just enjoying the experimentation and the control.

If you are surrounding yourself with people who also have that trust and support around them…

It’s a super community project too you know. I have people from all over my neighbourhood on it, in my friendship group, people in my cultural communities appearing all over it, in all facets of it. From the photography to the website building to the collabs. The kaupapa is in the DNA. COKES is for my people, from this side of the world. Cos unlike a lot of people I’m not ashamed to come from here. 

You’re releasing the whole thing in one hit next week?

Yeah (laughs). I’m feeling pretty good with where it’s at. And I’m still like a bit of a neurotic artist about it. Like fuck, putting out a record is always wild and heaps of things happen artistically and logistically once you set it free. I’ve had a couple of false starts with it too, wondering ‘should I put this out now’. Now I think with Waitangi Day and in the wake of Equalise My Vocals, it feels right for me.

Who can we expect to hear working with you on COKES?

It features some new producers and some I’ve always worked with. There’s Akashi Fisinaua, a Tongan artist/vocalist who I met through the local vogue scene, Māori artist Jermaine Dean features too – they are both members of the LGBT Pacific art collective Fafswag. Brown Boy Magik aka Nikolai Talamahina, he is a Samoan/Niuean artist who was also part of my EMV project. Hamishi Farah, a Somali artist who is based in Auckland by way of Melbourne, and my Rarotongan partner Tokerau Wilson aka Big Fat Raro – he’s also done some mixing and producing. Production-wise, there’s YumG0d a Pinoy Melbourne-based producer, my long-time collab’er Tim ‘Jizmatron’ Checkley, DJ Nasty aka ‘Detroits Filthiest’, my Māori bro LILStiffy aka Brandon Sayring who is based in Japan, Sam Moore my co-writer in Badd Energy and Hazbeats, a fairly iconic Niuean producer locally.

You have some shows this week which are multiple bills with Troy Kingi (also his release show), Electric Wire Hustle, Mark Vanilau and Borrowed CS. Some heavyweight colour right there. How did this all come about?

I wanted to do some new shows that felt substantial but also with people I knew weren’t going to be industry extra or pressurize me. Me and Mara had bro’d down a few times (while I was based in Wellington working on my cartoon Aroha Bridge) plus we both featured on a documentary talking about our relationship with ‘Aotearoa Futurism’ as Māori Polynesian artists. I got a cool insight into his outlook as a fellow psychedelic indigenous musician and I identified with it pretty hard. 

I’ve seen Troy Kingi kill it onscreen and heard heaps about his music, so I checked out the record he’s touring with us ‘Shake That Skinny Ass Back to Zygertron‘. I just realised it was a buzzy Intergalactic Māori line-up being put together, so I thought I’ll be safe and it’s highly likely I’ll have a good time, haha!

6th of February, Waitangi Day: is that a meaningful day for yourself? 

I decided on that day because every year I get angry and depressed and then the beat goes on. That’s one of those things I can rely on, like Invasion Day, Thanksgiving. Indigenous people have this really strange, repressed discourse and we feel like our whole existence in the world is misread and up for grabs by the white media, who just wanna ‘chill’. So I thought ‘you know what imma treat myself’. I’m a Māori/Pasifika wahine. I’m going to have a lit day and make it about something else. I’ll honour my ancestors and their intention when signing the treaty in 1840 – I do that every day.

The majority of the record is about that experience: race, gender, sex, power, sovereignty. So I thought ‘well shit, imma put it out on that day, and fuck all the people who annually twist my melon and disrespect us on every February 6th. Cos this Māori has a tape out’. And I’m going to give something back to the few people who might identify with me. My community, my peer group, whoever. I’m going to give them something else to think about as a symbol of ‘Oh well, they didn’t disempower us after all, this one loves herself’. So it’s a way for me to retaliate and express my self-sovereignty because that’s something no one can take away from me. Been there, done that, got it back. 

COKES, a mixtape by Coco Solid will be released in full next week, on 6 February, Waitangi Day.

Catch the shows:

Leigh – Leigh Sawmill, Friday 2 February

Auckland – Whammy Bar, Saturday 3 February

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