The soundtracks of our childhoods are formative in who we may grow up to be. It’s the music our mothers played when we cleaned the house, it’s the hip hop songs our fathers played on car rides when it was just the two of us, it’s the songs you associated with your childhood crush. For the average brown person in Aotearoa, the compilation albums and mixes of DJ Pasifika filled that space. After a moment of childhood reflection, I typed “Wicked Waiata” into the Spotify search bar. It sent me on a journey of rediscovery. 5000 followers on a single Wicked Waiata playlist reminded me that I was not alone in this childhood memory. A copy of any Wicked Waiata’s volume was a staple in Māori and Pacific households. These “Old Skool” mixes of classic jazz and R&B tracks were the soundtracks of our childhood, but their origin was unknown, and their influence forgotten. Now merely existing as a blurred memory, I tried to find where these CDs came from and who made them. I had to do some digging online and in my brain to find out the story behind these influential compilations.
A quick google of “Wicked Waiata” led me to an ancient-looking URL with a description of a man called DJ Pasifika (now goes by the name Wicked Waiata). DJ Pasifika started creating classic song mixes in 1997. Having just completed an audio engineering course, he sought to remix the songs that Māori and Pacific people loved. His first mix was of Sunfire’s ‘Young Free And Single’ (please stand for the New Zealand national anthem), which became a staple at whanau reunions. DJ Pasifika would play these mixes at family reunions, which became the most popular part of the night at events he performed at. It was at these very reunions that he decided to dedicate them to his Nana. According to the Wicked Waiata page, “Every reunion became an opportunity to catch up with his Nana and another reason to release one more volume”, and with that, Wicked Waiata was born.
These mixes are often forgotten and have become a blurred memory. Songs such as ’Islands in the Stream’ by Kenny Rogers and ‘Shake You Down’ by Gregory Abbot became hood garage party classics, but they became hood classics because of these CDs. The compilations spoke to playlist curation and remixing as a way to express sentiments. Reshaping the songs we love into a single anthology that brings joy to individuals, whānau, and communities. With Wicked Waiata, the aroha was there.
At every flea market, there would always be an OG playing and selling burned CDs of Wicked Waiata mixes, Fresh Off The Boat volumes, and Laughing Samoans DVDs. ‘Could You Be Loved’ by Bob Marley would travel across Avondale racecourse alongside the smell of island doughnuts and coconut cream raw fish. The music would have island boys singing ‘Spanish Harlem’ by Ben E. King to groups of girls. Not me, of course. I can’t sing and was wondering why the fuck a song called ‘Spanish Harlem’ was being played in Avondale. These burned CDs and their artwork embodied the happiness of our little spaces within the community. The covers of the CDs being printed on a home printer just show you how tu meke DJ Pasifika and his kaupapa was. These CDs burned from a primaeval computer and artwork printed from an ancient copier had more influence on three generations of Māori than any radio station could have.
These songs are sung at Maraes now. With the passing of a loved one, relatives and friends stand and tell stories about the deceased. We then finish with a Waiata, and these are almost always classic Māori songs or Wicked Waiata tracks. It could go from ‘Pōkarekare Ana’ to ‘You Are Not Alone’ by Michael Jackson. From ‘Te Aroha’ to ‘Is This Love’ by Bob Marley. It speaks to the impact of Wicked Waiatas.
Māori and Pasifika are natural orators. It’s in our whakapapa. For Māori, we are oral historians. We didn’t write stuff down. We memorised our histories through pūrākau. We speak openly on our sacred grounds, Maraes, and within our music. For Pasifika, Faʻamatai and orator chiefs were central to Samoan culture. They were essential in recording indigenous history and genealogy, achieving this through oral accounts before the introduction of written language. The fact that we sing Wicked Waiata tracks on Marae, urupā, and at tangi demonstrates how influential these albums were for our people. The albums are time machines into our recent past. They are reminders of rare happy moments and become healing tools for the reminiscent Māori.
After eight volumes, DJ Pasifika retired Wicked Waiata mixes. His online bio states, “After his Nana passed away, the reasons for making another volume at the reunions also ceased to exist“. DJ Pasifika now resides in Sydney, performing at a select few events. He DJs on twitch weekly and dedicates his time to “producing artists and launching e-commerce concepts”. His career now spans nearly 30 years, but his most influential mahi is still those flea market compilation albums. We thank him for sharing those mixes, and even more so, his Nana, for allowing Wicked Waiata to grow and giving our people the soundtracks of our childhoods.
Music is medicine; it’s emotional, it’s a reflection of our realities and who we are. For many of us, it’s as natural as breathing, especially for Māori. I hope that the reader goes to YouTube or Spotify and listens to those songs and mixes with newfound knowledge and context for the power of music.