Giving it Herbs – Herbs Band

TU TANGATA MAGAZINE A Maori Perspective on New Zealand

Issue 32 : October/November 1986

na Philip Whaanga
Herbs is the maoritanga, promoter Hugh Lynn never had.
Herbs, the Polynesian band, are also the taiaha in the hands of a man committed to ‘total war’ against the New Zealand entertainment industry.


Dilworth Karaka of Herbs Band

The setting is the Farewell to Herbs Tour, with support bands, Aotearoa, Dread Beat, Blood and ARDIJAH, all Polynesian bands. Already the tour has taken in Rotorua, New Plymouth, Palmerston North with Wellington tonight, then back to Auckland and Whangarei. Finally Fiji and Japan where they’ll feature in a televised Hiroshima Peace Concert.

For Herbs, a band of musicians who have a kaumatua status in the New Zealand music world, it’s all been along time coming. Saxophonist Morrie Watene says it all. “I’d hoped that this time would come, this success… butI wish it had come fifteen years ago.”

For Morrie who’s been a musician all his life, those fifteen years would have revealed a younger and more starry-eyed man, who Morrie admits, needed to mature.

That tantalising success, which in music terms means concert goers, record buyers and megabucks, has come equally from the band’s determination and music promoter, Hugh Lynn.

Hugh admits his motives were primarily business when he got involved with Herbs around five years ago. He was already wealthy from his business and saw in Herbs a potential. However he says he wasn’t prepared for the racism that confronted band members in the shape of poor accommodation on tour and the bum’s rush treatment that was generally handed out to Herbs.

“Maori music was seen to be just pub-band material.”

He says band members were offered food and accommodation that the people offering it wouldn’t have accepted. This really woke a fighting instinct in him.

It woke up his long dormant Maori side.

He now remembers his mother Da (Dorethy) Katipa, striving to have the young Hugh educated in the proper schools. Through his mother’s love and skill as a ballet dancer and later teacher, Hugh was encouraged to take to the stage. This he remembers doing at the tender age of three at an Auckland club. He later went on to perform creditably in tap dancing, ballet (with an invite to the Royal Ballet) and Latin American dancing (with some Australasian titles).

He also remembers his koro, Hawa coming to live with them in Auckland. The contrast between father and daughter was great.

“My grandfather didn’t like pakehas much and resisted pakeha things. He still washed his clothes in a bucket. I guess I felt ashamed of him for being so primitive, but I perhaps unknowingly picked up a lot from his fierce pride in being Maori.”

Whatever the internal conflict, the young Hugh Lynn soon got the sums right when he formed his first club, The Eden Health Club. That’s when he got into martial arts and body-building. Next up was the establishment of Eden Security, the name that’s now synonymous with Auckland music concerts. From there it was an easy step, says Hugh, to owning night-clubs and starting to do music promotions.

So why the association with Herbs, a Polynesian band that had already established a firm following in Auckland, but seemed destined to stay in that rut, while lesser talented pakeha bands appeared on tv and had records in the top twenty?

It’s a question that’s been fired at Hugh before, by the band, by his business associates and by sceptical observers.

He’s had to go looking deep inside for an answer that’s not always satisfied himself or others. “I’m one of those born-again Maori. Bastion Point triggered something in me.”

“With Herbs, I was treated as a Maori in a negative way through bad attitudes.” He started to acknowledge his maoriness but in a positive way using his business skills to fight back. He was encouraged to develop his Maori side by different people like Norman Te Whata, an artist who designed an album cover for Herbs.

Another woman gave him some books +containing korero about the wairua of the Maori prophets.

Through all this personal discovery came the music of Herbs, like the breaking of waves, says Hugh. Their sense of whanaungatanga, of belonging was very real. Their music spoke of papatuanuku, the earth mother, long before it was fashionable to protest for a nuclear-free world.

This belonging was threatened when lead singer, Toni Fonoti, left Herbs about three years age. He wrote ‘French Letter’, a song to the French people protesting about the continued nuclear testing in the Pacific.

Morrie Watene says Toni’s departure was tough on all, but it ultimately brought the band together.

“After Toni left we closed ranks and shut the door. In those days we each had barriers around us.”

That understatement probably best sums up the battler mentality of Herbs. In a cover-story on Herbs in Tu Tangata February/March 1982, the band spoke of disappointments over cancelled gigs and the much reduced Pacific tour scheduled for later that year. Their final comment on the future was “Yeah we’ll be around.”

Herbs now only has Morrie Watene, Dilworth Karaka on guitar and Fred Faleauto on drums as original members, but along with the injection of business promotion through Hugh has come Tama Ludon on keyboards, Tom Nepia on percussion, Willie Hona on guitar and Charlie Tumuhae on bass.


Willie Hona and Tama Ludon of Herbs

Hugh points out that only recently has Charlie been accepted into the band, as indeed it was some time before Hugh himself was okayed. Charlie came from the heady music world where Herbs seem destined for. He was an original member of the Little River Band and then spent some time with Be Bop Deluxe, a band says Hugh that very nearly made it big in Britain, before breaking up. Charlie’s enthusiasm was obvious in the way he moved around on stage, which was a source of amusement for some of Herbs.

And what about this war which Hugh Lynn has declared? “The NZ entertainment industry had written Maori talent off as either being just pub band or else cabaret. We’d shown we could entertain but we had no control over what happened after that. In the night club world or recording and promotion.”

That’s when Hugh came in with knowledge of these fields. “I mean I was always used to having money and the control in these areas. In the time I’ve been with Herbs, we’ve been able to break out of the stereotype and show our young people what is possible.” His recording company, clubs and contacts have been vital. He believes Herbs have been an inspiration to young Maori, who’ve found respect and identity in their music. He says this is evident at concerts where rival gang members still give their salutes, but this time not out of aggro but rather to the power of the music to unite.

Hugh also tells of police and promoters worried about potential violence when Herbs were due to play in Gisborne at the time of the rasta killing last year. That didn’t happen.

Breaking the stereotype has also been the feature of Whare Tapere, a subsidary group that has organized the training of Maori road crew in skills from setting up sound gear to administering and booking venues.

Two from the training course are now employed on the current tour.
Breaking the 35% mentality of Maori music people is also an aim of Hugh’s. He says a lot of musicians are content with 35% of the income after expenses have been deducted and don’t look further. He’s encouraging them to lift their sights higher so that they can take an active part in the business side.

On the percentage side he’s also asking for a higher work output, he says Herbs used to work at 30% but have now moved to 50%. It’s this area he says the top bands he’s promoted work in.

“When you work with Genesis, David Bowie and Bob Dylan, you see the commitment and results.” “I really believe the young bands on this tour have followed in the ground broken by Herbs. Nearly all 51 % tour members are Maori and proud of it.”

It’s the international contacts that have worked in Herbs favour. Neil Young mentioning the Herbs favour to another promoter, hence the Japanese connection. It’s the jaded nature of the contemporary music scene world wide, that has sparked a return to native music, the tribal rhythms of Africa and other native cultures.

“Herbs have come to this point at an opportune time,” says Hugh. But at the end of the day Hugh says, Herbs are a business. And what he doesn’t say is, thanks largely to him.

Along the way Herbs and the spawning of an indigenous music industry have swapped notes and agreed to differ at times.

Like the standard rule for composition of night clubbers.

“I learnt off Phil Warren and Benny Levin that 30% Maori 60% pakeha was the top limit for night-club patrons. Any more, and pakeha would stay away. I went along with that too, it was bad for business and I had a few clubs then.”

Herbs have suffered through that at Ponsonby’s Gluepot, a trendy pub with Auckland’s music goers. When Herbs are there, says Hugh, the take is usually down because of the ones who stay away. However in more rural areas, the large turn-out of Maori, guarantees capacity crowds.

Along with the pluses is that Hugh says Herbs’ fans now dress up a little when they come along.

“It’s a coming together that celebrates a people.”

Hugh says accommodation people and other promoters have learnt respect for the band and he believes this will lift the level of Maori entertainment in Maori and pakeha eyes. He concedes he has a long way to go with his learning and practicing of his maoritanga, but the rewards it’s brought him so far have been so much more satisfying than the material gains of former years.

“I’m lucky that I have the opportunity to look back and see the inbuilt strengths of our people and take this as a direction for our young people.”

~ by khomenx on 5-February-2009.

3 Responses to “Giving it Herbs – Herbs Band”

  1. Check out Herbs web site at

  2. Hi there, do you happen to have contact details for the band. I would love to get in touch with them, Please email me at Thanks

  3. I always spent my half an hour to read this weblog’s content every day along with a cup of coffee.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s