Dei Hamo arrived in the first wave of New Zealand hip-hop during the late 80s. He helped popularise the new sounds coming out of South Auckland and created bridges by working with a wide range of artists from different backgrounds.
He was a key artist on the Proud and Pioneers of A Pacifikan Frontier compilations, but when this scene began to fade, he turned away from music for a few years.
His sudden return in 2002 was marked by a Top 40 hit on both sides of the Tasman, ‘We Gon Ride’. He decided to focus on making music videos, though he continues to release music and has probably guested on more tracks than any other local rap artist.
Sanerivi (Sani) Sagala first took the stage under the name “Ichiban” (“number one” in Japanese) at a couple of rap competitions in the late 1980s – one in Manukau and another at the Powerstation, where he performed on the formidably large stage while still only in year nine (third form) at Aorere College in Papatoetoe.
Soon after, he formed Enemy Productions with his brother Johnny and two friends (Richard Ngati and Jim “DJ Fingas” Makai). The crew released a track called ‘Stop Tagging,’ which Sani was asked to write after getting caught doing graffiti. It was playlisted on Auckland student station 95bFM and the group began doing occasional slots at dance parties in the city.
Sani wanted to create a more serious crew, so he and his brother joined with Makai and school friend, Fatu Su'a, to form Pacifican Descendants (with DJ Chris Halavaka sometimes taking over on turntables). Their manager, Andy Vann, already worked with producer Alan Jansson, so he suggested that they record at Jansson’s studio, Uptown.
This was perfect timing since Jansson was working on the seminal compilation, Proud (1994), along with the South Auckland musical kingpin, Phil Fuemana. Pacifican Descendants added to the Polynesian flavour of the album by recording Cook Island drums for ‘Pass It Over’ and having a ukulele intro on 'Tuesday blues.'
Yet Sani was dissatisfied and broke off to form his own group with Su’a. They took the name Dei Hamo – a slang term for “The Samoan” – but Su’a eventually decided to focus on university instead and Sani was left with the name.
Dei Hamo then hooked up with jazz musician Nathan Haines and started a two year residency at the High Street club Cause Celebre. He fronted Haines’ single, ‘Lady J’ (1994), which put him in front of a brand new audience, then spread his name further by guesting on albums by Urban Disturbance and Matty J.
Dei Hamo created two tracks for the compilation Pioneers of A Pacifikan Frontier.
Dei Hamo gradually taught himself to create his own backing tracks, despite having no musical training. This made him an obvious choice when Phil Fuemana came to his next project, founding Urban Pacifika Records. Dei Hamo created two tracks for the compilation Pioneers of A Pacifikan Frontier and appeared on a track by R&B group Moizna. Sani’s brother and his former bandmate DJ Fingas were also involved as members of Lost Tribe.
The high hopes for the compilation weren’t matched by its sales and Dei Hamo was left disillusioned. He turned away from music and focused on raising his newly born son, Kiani, while studying business and working as baker.
In 2002, Dei Hamo was brought back to music by Matt “Matty J” Ruys, who was working with Universal to create his own label, HiRUYS. Initially Dei Hamo guested with the label’s pop act, K’Lee, before going on to record his own album. New Zealand hip hop had reached a height of popularity at this time (2004) and so Dei Hamo wanted to come out strongly and organised extra recording sessions late in the piece so he could attempt a more international sounding track.
The result was ‘We Gon Ride'. The single was promoted by a $50,000 music video created by Chris Graham and it hit No.1 in New Zealand, staying on the charts for five months, even managing to break into the Australian Top Forty.
Dei Hamo followed this hit with ‘To Tha Floor,’ which hit No.5 on the singles chart in February 2005. The subsequent album, First Edition (2005) also featured Tim Finn, who re-recorded the chorus of ‘I Hope I Never’ (by Split Enz) to provide the central hook of ‘Cry Again’, which was about Sani’s break-up with the mother of his son (he also discussed being a father on ‘A True Story’).
He toured extensively to promote First Edition (pushing it to No.13 on the charts in March 2005) but eventually eased up on his music career to focus on music video production (starting his own company called Dei Hamo Music). Yet this work didn’t stop him from continuing to release the odd single (‘Lyka Teen’ and ‘Let’s Fly’ in 2008) and making guest appearances with popular young artists such as Pieter T, Vince Harder and XY.
Since becoming a music video director, Sani has created videos for Pieter T, Devolo, and Smashproof (as well as videos for Deach and Tyree’s solo projects).
Six of the tracks on Dei Hamo’s album First Edition were produced in collaboration with John Chong-Nee, who was a member of AKA Brown back in the days of Urban Pacifika. Dei Hamo also guested on Chong-Nee’s album Just Getting By On Love (2006).
Urban Pacifika Records