Film Review: Dawn Raid Director: Oscar Kightley 

Featuring the music of: Adeaze, Aaradhna, Savage, Mareko, Deceptikonz

The documentary of Dawn Raid Entertainment is at its heart the story of Andy Murnane and Danny “Brother D” Leaosavai’i who met at a business college and went on to found a successful Hip-Hop music production and clothing business in 1999 in Papatoetoe, South Auckland.

It is also the story of the rise of Polynesian culture and pride in its biggest population base, South Auckland. The company name refers to infamous dawn raids targeting Polynesian overstayers, initiated by the Labour government in the early Seventies

Director Oscar Kightly begins the movie with this background. The underlying racism of white New Zealand gives the important setting to this story. And while it’s never completely banished, the bigger story of spirit rising up and being triumphant has been put together in a skillful way by the production team.

Brother D talks frankly on screen about his early life on the suburban streets. Gang influences and street violence. It took a death of a rival to realise the effects this was having on Polynesian families. And for him to reach a turning point.

Andy Murnane is just as open and disarming on film. As opposite as you could get from Brother D.  European and a ginger.  Also, a rebellious teen. In trouble at school and with the law. After one more time in Police custody, his father decided to leave him there to cool his heels.

Dad Murnane became a crucial mentor and eventually business partner to the two entrepreneurs.

An odd couple maybe. Bound by a mutual love of Hip-Hop culture. The music and the fashion. They learnt quickly as they went along. T-shirts are what brought in the cash and how they were able to initially fund their project.

They sought local artists to promote and record. Realising there was a wealth of untapped local talent.

Brothers Nainz Tupae and Viiz Tupae  tell their story. Played music for family and friends and then church. They recorded as Adeaze and went on to produce the biggest selling album for the Dawn Raid label, Always for Real.

More talent followed. We hear the stories of Aaradhna, Mareko and Savage.

How the company went from music production to videos to opening for big-name touring acts in New Zealand is fascinating.

Archival footage is included of the early start of these acts, along with their more well-known production videos. Also included is the documenting of one of the many break-ins they were plagued with at their studio and shop.

The story then moves to New York City streets and studios, where they get to meet and record with the big names of Rap and hip-Hop.

But there was trouble looming, and the company was caught out by the shifting nature of the music industry in the Noughties.

That’s not the end. The story of how Savages Swing became New Zealand’s biggest selling single was to follow.

The documentary is ultimately an uplifting story of success where little was expected, and a tribute to the Polynesian community of New Zealand at large.

It is remarkably similar, if lesser in scale to the story of Stax Records in Memphis. The title Dawn Raid brings it all back full circle.   

In the last few months, Savage’s Swing mixed with Coldplay’s Viva La Vida has gone viral on Tik-Tok.

Rev Orange Peel