As Cool As Koolism
It’s one of the longest-used and most simple cooking methods where there is no other equipment available – an earth oven that allows archeologists to spot signs of early human settlement. That’s one definition of The Umu, at least, but as it happens, it’s also the title of Koolism’s fifth full-length studio cook-up which sees the Canberra Hip-hoppers finally come of age in more ways than one. As per tradition, the key word here is ‘simplicity’, however, as MC Hau Latukefu explains, this doesn’t mean you can’t still experiment…
“Man, there were some trying times throughout the process,” he says. “It definitely proved to be a test of endurance. Daniel [Elleson, producer] was in Melbourne and I was in Sydney and we had our own lives going on and stuff. So just the travelling back and forth in itself in order to actually get together and organise to do the album was a big strain. At the same time you’re surrounded by issues of real life and you’re just all over the place.”
At this point, Latukefu and Elleson realised one thing – Koolism could either sink or swim. The time had come to either call it a day or to make the best album of their career so far. Luckily, the duo agreed on the latter…
“We looked at each other and we knew that this was the point where people either want to leave it and move forward, or keep going,” says Latukefu. “But our relationship was way too solid for that. When I think about it, he’s definitely one of my oldest friends, he’s like a brother to me because we’ve had fights and arguments but also the love and bonding.”
And it certainly shows on The Umu. While the chemistry between Latukefu and Elleson has never been stronger than on their latest record, it’s also perhaps the most experimental and mature piece of music the duo has released to date. And while it was Part 3 – Random Thoughts that won the boys an ARIA, it was the 2006 New Old Ground that had proven tough to live up to.
“We started off in the Hip-hop tradition of heavy sampling,” recalls Latukefu. “Eventually we learned it was good to have a healthy balance of sampling and live instruments in terms of production… And that comes through on this album more than any other. Daniel taught himself to play bass and some drums. As for the lyrics, I’ve learned to pick my words more wisely. When you’re younger you’re just on fire and you’re just talking shit some of the time, but that’s changed in the last three years especially.”
Looking back on the duo’s success and the early days in Canberra back in 1992, Latukefu claims it’s only now he and Elleson realise how much isolation played a part in it all. The option to move to Melbourne or Sydney was always there, after all, but Latukefu says he’s glad it wasn’t taken…
“At the time Sydney and Melbourne had a really good scene of Hip-hop, and if you wanted to be a part of that you had to travel. It was frustrating at first because we felt like we were stuck in Canberra, which we realised was only a matter of how we chose to see things. Instead of whining we were forced to hone our craft without much outside influence. That automatically made us different to Sydney and Melbourne and gave us a unique sound. When we started coming out and playing shows, we had something unique to offer and everybody could tell. I’m not saying the Sydney and Melbourne scenes were generic, I’m just saying you can tell when something sounds ‘not from here’…”
And the rest of the Australian music industry agreed because Koolism soon went on to become the first Aussie Hip-hop group to ever win an ARIA Award in 2004 for Best Urban Release thanks to Part 3 – Random Thoughts. And while eventually Latukefu and Elleson did make the move to the big smoke of Sydney and Melbourne from their hometown of Canberra in 2005, their 2006 New Old Ground album proved that the boys were still all about individuality at heart.
“I think by that stage we’d already developed a sound that wouldn’t see us get lost in the mix of all the other hip-hop groups in Sydney and Melbourne,” says Latukefu. “So it was cool. And it was great to see that we were finally getting some validation for what we were doing. Even though it was never part of our plan to get an ARIA, it was definitely a bonus and we’re thankful for that. I think it really did a lot for Aussie Hip-hop in general – just the fact that they even established an award for Australian Hip-hop meant that everybody was being acknowledged, really. The award itself wasn’t that huge a deal, for me it was more about getting to see my mum and dad just smiling from ear to ear…”
Hau from Koolism has just been tagged in Rapper Tag. If you don't know what Rapper Tag is yet. Don't be the last to know and check it out NOW. Go to http://rappertag.com
Koolism play Goodvibes feat. Miike Snow, Faithless and many more at Flemington Racecourse on Sunday February 13.