Herbs: Songs of Freedom is more interested in making thematic sense than chronological. It is a movie about what they mean, not how they developed. Similar to the Topp Twins film, the docu highlights the struggles and fights (Bastion Point for one) from that era as reflected in song.
This is a funny, elegiac, moving, necessary and quietly triumphant film. It may just be my new favourite New Zealand music doco ever.
…is an intimate, sometimes irreverent, tale of how a diverse group of people, with strong political voices and damn good songs became intertwined in our national consciousness.
Five men from different islands throughout the South Pacific join forces in 1978 and find the words and the music within each other to give New Zealand its voice and Pacific place in the world. With its unique mix of Māori, Pākehā and Pasifika musicians, Herbs had shifting iterations, at one point growing to 23 members.
The film is no “this is how we met and then this happened” plod through Herbs’ story. Director Kahi has taken a far more nuanced and illustrative path into the tale. The edit skips around the timelines, introducing members then and now. It’s a tough approach to make sing, but Kahi and his editors make it look very natural.
Interviews, past and present, loop us back to social and political flashpoints such as the occupation of Bastion Point, the 1981 Springbok tour demonstrations, and the dawn raids targeting the Polynesian community. Reminiscences interweave with rehearsals and the concert itself, celebrating songs which harbour strong political messages within superb harmonies and distinctive South Pacific-infused rhythms. Their power and appeal remain undiminished’.
NZ 2019, 90 min, rated PG (violence & offensive language)
Directed by Tearepa Kahi