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Hip-hop legend and ‘family man’ Ché-Fu on performing with his son

The music pioneer is delighted to be performing with his son
Mum and Dad with their talented sons (from left) Loxmyn, Jéru, Marley and Kaselle.
Pictures: Emily Chalk

Ché-Fu stands in a stone doorway of the Auckland Town Hall and he feels like it’s a homecoming.

The exceptional Kiwi hip-hop pioneer, known at home as Ché Ness, has made so many memories in the iconic concert chamber and he’s on the verge of making new ones with his whānau.

His earliest memory of the majestic Great Hall is as a three-year-old, being hoisted onto the shoulders of an uncle to watch his reggae musician father Tigilau Ness play in an anti-Apartheid concert in the 1970s.

Ché, who would grow up to become a founding member of Supergroove, says, “I remember being a head above all these people, watching my dad play. And it was the first time I saw the Topp Twins.”

As his career as a solo artist began to take shape, Ché played in the Town Hall in 1994 as support to touring Jamaican reggae legend Jimmy Cliff. It was around that time Ché began dating the woman who would become his wife, Angela McDonald.

Ange recalls, “That was the first day I met his mum and she told me I was going to the concert. I don’t actually go to many of Ché’s shows – I get too nervous.”

But his next performance at the Auckland Town Hall in June is one Ange and the rest of the McDonald-Ness family wouldn’t miss. It’s a collaboration concert with the Auckland Philarmonia for Matariki. It’ll feature Ché’s band, The Kratez, whose members include the eldest of his four sons, Loxmyn.

Ange and their three other sons – Jéru, Marley and Kaselle – will be there too. “They’ll be selling my T-shirts hopefully,” laughs Ché, who has had more top-10 songs – including Misty Frequencies and Fade Away – than any other individual recording artist in New Zealand’s music history.

“To celebrate Matariki is very important to me – to be tangata whenua, and have my wife and my kids here will be awesome,” he says.

Ché’s late mum Miriama Rauhihi-Ness was Māori and his dad is Niuean.

It’s an “absolute dream”, he says, to perform alongside Loxmyn, who’s now 25. “When he was born, it was something I imagined perhaps happening one day. I thought if he grew up and played in my band that would be something extraordinary.

“I can’t really put into words how much I love having my son in my band. And there’s no nepotism in it – he’s a musician in his own right. To have someone so professional, who has the chops and the skills to be able to fill that position, just makes you feel proud as a dad.”

A talented saxophonist, Loxmyn graduated from the University of Auckland with a music degree majoring in jazz. He has his own jazz band, The Filthy Junk Traders. “It’s a genre of music I know nothing about,” admits Ché. “So it’s been a joy to watch him grow and progress as a musician.”

Loxmyn says he’s fortunate to grow up with a dad who has been “an easy teacher”.

“The interesting thing about playing in his band is I’ve heard the songs my whole life, but having to play them is a completely different context,” he says. “It changes which songs are my favourites.
Waka has become one of my favourites because I can now see all the parts happening.”

All of Ché and Ange’s sons are interested in music. They riff off each other, singing whenever they’re together (all but Loxmyn still live in the family home in Auckland).

“The three eldest all produce their own music through their various devices in their bedrooms,” Ché says. “We all congregate and communicate, and share ideas in music, which is really cool.”

Jéru, 22, is a DJ and often works with Ché, who also moonlights as a DJ some nights. As well, Jéru performs sets alongside Loxmyn playing the sax.

Marley, 20, makes music too, but he’s a chef who works six nights a week.

The youngest son, 15-year-old Kaselle, has just begun sharing his musical interests with the family.

“I remember him being like, ‘I don’t want to do music,’ when he was younger,” tells Ché. “I could understand him wanting to take another path from his dad and his siblings. But as of late, he cannot deny his genes.”

All four brothers get along well together, with Ange and Ché raising the boys in the Rastafarian faith.

“It’s definitely something we addressed early to make sure they are loving towards each other,” explains Ché.

“But when they were little, they had their moments!” says Ange, adding, “I just feel very blessed to have my boys. They’re all great.”

They’re not just a household of musos – the brothers have all played sport growing up. Marley has represented Niue in rugby league (both Ange and Ché played league, but for rival Auckland clubs). Loxmyn earned his black belt in Shaolin kung fu, Jéru played softball and now Kaselle plays basketball.

And as a family, they still play together – competing on PlayStation. “I can only really play one game,” says Ange, “but I love watching the boys playing together, outside shooting hoops or on their computers making [music] samples with different beats.” The fact that they keep coming home to hang out with each other makes Ché a happy dad.

“I don’t think I was like that when I was their age,” says Ché. He spent much of his childhood with his aunt and grandmother while his parents were prominent activists for Polynesian rights. “I was off out the door. That’s not to say that my home life wasn’t the best, but it’s different strokes for different folks.”

Performing at the Rumba music festival in Auckland in 2002.

Now one of his favourite things is to take family holidays.

“We could have fun in a telephone booth!” he laughs. “We’re always in the moment and there’s always laughter, and there’s always fun.”

Last year, the McDonald-Ness family went to Rarotonga to celebrate Ange’s 50th birthday and Japan is next on the wishlist.

Ché has “leaned back” from putting out solo albums at this stage of his career. “I do shows, and make music for pleasure with my kids and my friends now,” he says, having just collaborated with hip-hop group Deceptikonz.

“Being a family man is my thing. Family has definitely always been the main reason as to why I move and how I make my decisions as a person in this country.”

Ché admits to a few nerves about performing with a 70-piece orchestra for the Matariki concert, presented by KBB Music and The Trusts Community Foundation, on 27 June. It’s not the first time he’s collaborated with the Auckland Philharmonia. In 2001, he sang with them from an “island” stage in the middle of a flooded Aotea Square.

“You don’t want to mess up in these concerts,” he says. “For the Philharmonia musicians, it’s more straight-forward because they use sheet music. But for hip-hop guys like me, we’ve got to go by the numbers – and when we get higher than 10, I’ll have to take my shoes off to count my toes!”

Auckland Philharmonia’s Matariki with Ché-Fu & The Kratez is on 27 June.

For more info and tickets, visit aucklandphil.nz/che-fu. He’ll also perform with the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra on 10 August.

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