Exclusive: Nesian Mystik talk new music, day jobs and diversity

It's been eight years since Nesian Mystik announced their amicable split following a successful, decade-long career spanning numerous awards and four studio albums.

With their diverse cultural backgrounds and fusion of contemporary hip-hop and Polynesian melodies, the Auckland sextet took their leave following the platinum-certified success of 'Sun Goes Down' in 2011. 

Since then, the hitmakers have been juggling fatherhood, nine-to-five jobs and individual projects, "catching up on life" outside of the spotlight. Newshub caught up with former members Dave Atai, Feleti 'Sabre' Strickson-Pua, Donny 'Tha Kid Oldwun' McNulty and Heath Manukau to see what's next for the long-time friends. 

"Everybody is still involved in music in some way... we've been doing the normal nine-to-five, continuing other passions," Dave told Newshub.

"We've been catching up on life. We did music straight out of high school and invested a lot of time into it. We're having more time with our families," Donny said.

Although the group has stepped back from the stage, music still acts as a much-needed "escape" in their day-to-day lives. A handful of the high-school mates have continued to produce and release music, enjoying the craft without "the pressure of having to create all the time".

"We've always worked, but we weren't able to focus on careers we could maintain... we're a band of six in Aotearoa - we've always worked on the side. We've been able to focus on our main thing more," Sabre said. 

With sporadic performances scattered over the last eight years, Nesian Mystik is now reuniting for two shows in 2020. The group is joining the likes of Sean Paul, Shaggy and Katchafire at January's One Love festival, marking their first six-man-strong reunion since 2011. They're also returning to the Homegrown line-up following a six-year absence.

"In terms of One Love, it was one of those opportunities that seemed to fit with our lives... we had a really good chat about it and thought, 'yeah, okay, we'll do it'," Donny said.

"One Love is about the people... our audience all come together for this weekend. We see the love, people asking for us to come back."

"It's hard to get six people doing their own thing to sync up again," Heath explained.

"When we were younger, we were literally climbing through each other's windows - we'd wake each other up, make music, go on tour. Now we're older, it's a mission to get everyone on the same page.

"We get offered gigs all the time... what drove us back [to One Love] was the people. That definitely is what One Love is above - we wanted to show our fans that love."

Despite extended hiatuses between performances, Nesian Mystik maintains that their group dynamic has remained the same.

"When we come back together, it's still the same. I think we bring different experiences - when we were younger, we were always together, so we always had a shared experience. Now, we bring to the group what we individually go through," Heath explained. 

Nesian Mystik's diverse backgrounds were always at the forefront of their eclectic sound, an amalgamation of reggae, rap, R&B, contemporary hip-hop and Pasifika influences, with lyrical nods to their Cook Island, Tongan, Samoan and Māori heritage. 

During the early to mid-2000s, the group represented Polynesian communities in the mainstream New Zealand music scene, establishing a solid and positive platform to express socio-political messages and cultural diversity. 

"I still think there's a lack of diversity and representation on TV and radio. I think things are in a really great place in terms of production and creation, but in terms of getting heard on radio and TV, that's a bit of a challenge," Sabre said.

"We don't have the targets that we used to have - luckily when we came out, radio had a target. Now, there's no targets. Streaming and social media has changed how you get your music heard. 

"In terms of creation, if you look at how much is on SoundCloud - that's amazing. There's so many different acts and global collaboration - a lot of Māori and Pasifika artists are working across Australia, the Pacific Islands, Hawaii - there's more cohesive workings."

With numerous Vodafone New Zealand Music Award nominations, an impressive arsenal of awards and a four-times platinum RIANZ certification for their 2002 debut Polysaturated, it's safe to say Nesian Mystik are regarded as inspirations for a number of upcoming Kiwi artists.

"Be yourself... everybody has a story to tell and everyone has shared a similar experience around that story - that's your connection to an audience," Dave advised.

"The world is at their fingertips. Things have changed since we began in the industry, take advantage [of social media]... that would be my best advice. Do it because you love it and just do you."

"There's so many different platforms, I think it's about becoming smarter about how you use them. Artists are more dynamic, they're in control of what they're doing. That's exciting," Sabre added.

Yet unfortunately for fans, their upcoming performances are not indicative of a more permanent reunion.

"In terms of getting back together, it's a timing thing. We are respectful of the lives we have built individually... it's tough to say. The One Love decision was just timing, after how many years of trying to get it all together," Dave said.

"Whether [or not] it's going to be a more consistent thing - when the sun, moon and stars align."

However, some new music could possibly be on the cards - with heavy emphasis on the possibly.

"We've been talking - our 20th anniversary is soon. There could be something in the pipeline for that. We've been trying to put something together for One Love," Donny hinted.

"It comes down to timing, if we can get together - when we create as a team, our best material comes out. We are planning to update some of the digital platforms with unreleased music for listeners," Dave revealed.

"But in terms of 'new' stuff - yes, no, maybe, could be, quite possibly, only if, depending on..."

We'll take that as 'watch this space', then.