Emerging in the late 1970s, led by Ryan and Betty-Anne Monga, Ardijah has endured endless road miles, late nights, heartbreaks and hurdles to keep their musical vision alive.
After serving an apprenticeship in south Auckland clubs such as Cleopatra’s – where slick musicianship and cover versions were essential – Ardijah entered the central Auckland scene with a reputation. By 1985 they were the band to name drop in circles where dance grooves were appreciated.
“There’s a touch of ‘overnight sensation’ to the Ardijah story,” Jewel Sanyo wrote in Rip It Up in June 1987, pointing out the reality: “Six years residency at Cleopatra’s nightclub in Panmure before word leaked out within the music business.”
Once playing the inner city – a move encouraged by bassist Ryan Monga’s short stint with Car Crash Set – Ardijah was quickly signed by Pagan, the nascent record company run by Trevor Reekie for Mirage Films. After their first single, ‘Give Me Your Number’, was released – reaching No.15 – a scene in the film Queen City Rocker followed, and a place on the soundtrack.
Ardijah’s cameo appearance in Queen City Rocker – performing in a downtown Auckland club – and the soundtrack remain the best elements of the street kids/gangs/clubs/mafia film, which opened to empty Auckland cinemas in early 1987.
After another single on Pagan, ‘Your Love is Blind’, Ardijah transferred to WEA (NZ) Ltd, the New Zealand branch of the US major, run by local industry titan Tim Murdoch. ‘That’s the Way’ b/w ‘Give Me Time’ was the first WEA single, and Ardijah was a band going places in a hurry.
With great timing, the band won the inaugural Rheineck Rock Award in 1987, which gave them $30,000 to spend on recording an album. The award that funded Ardijah’s self-titled album – and Stunt Clown by Headless Chickens – is now better remembered than the beer after which it was named, for both albums are regarded as classics.
The Ardijah story is a roller-coaster ride of unique music, determined vision – and hard luck.
“Ardijah’s polish and professionalism have raised the standard of live performance in New Zealand by 100 percent,” wrote Sanyo in 1987. The south Auckland club apprenticeship was crucial to their perfectionism: both the band and its demanding audiences would be disappointed if they didn’t sound at least as good as the records they were emulating. Only then did they take the next step, writing their own material.
Ironically, it was a cover version that in 1999 gave Ardijah its first No.1 single, ‘Silly Love Songs’. But it wasn’t the bass playing that provided the hook; instead Ardijah introduced a ukulele to the arrangement, an element that firmly established them as Pasifika’s premiere funksters.
“After that the flood gates opened for everything Polynesian,” Ryan Monga tells Alan Perrott in his two-part AudioCulture account of the band’s career.
Ardijah began emulating the contemporary R&B from the US in the early 80s, especially Prince and Jimmy Jam, but the band’s longevity is due to the unique genre they created: Polyfonk.
Perrott’s story is a roller-coaster ride, a social history of R&B in 80s Auckland, of record company machinations and disappointments, of hardship and hard luck.
However Ardijah’s vision prevailed. Time, like wine, made them stronger.
Read part one of the Ardijah story
Betty-Anne Monga - vocals, ukulele, percussion
Ryan Monga - producer, musical director, drums, bass, vocals
Simon Lynch - keyboards
Tony Nogotautama - vocals, guitar
Ryan "Kaitapu" Monga Jr - bass, drums, vocals
Rico Tali - saxophone, flute, ukulele, guitar, vocals
Phil Crown - keyboards, vocals
Karl Benton - keyboards
Kolo Hansen - keyboards
Jay Dee - guitar, vocals
Richie Campbell - drums
James Tuiara - vocals, percussion