Two teenagers from Ōtara, Brenda and Hassanah, were the voices behind the 1994 song, In the Neighbourhood. Released under the name ‘Sisters Underground’ their song made the NZ Top 10 on release, hit the charts in Australia, and went on to become an iconic part of New Zealand music history.
Brenda and Hassanah share their thoughts and memories of In the Neighbourhood. Exploring themes of Pasifika representation, family grief, and what it was like to be two teens rolling in the Ōtara neighbourhood.
The song’s success came as something of a surprise to the duo who, years later, are still coming to terms with the resounding impact ‘In the Neighbourhood’ had on Aotearoa.
“When that came out, it was a very proud moment,” Upper Hutt Posse member Teremoana Rapley says. “It felt like I wasn’t alone, because up to that point, there were no sisters to the left or to the right of me.”
Sarah Tamaira AKA Voodoo Child shared a similar experience: “You know, when you’re a young girl those kinds of things mean everything to you, seeing brown faces on the TV.”
The song carries with it a strong sense of identity. It was funded by a Manukau City Council grant, and the music video was filmed in various locations throughout Ōtara, including their own homes, friends and families.
Thinking upon her lyrics, Hassanah explains: “I was really trying to connect the hip hop that I admired to what we would do every day. I wanted it to reflect social inequalities… the true enemy in my mind at that time was, you know, the system.”
This mix of hip hop and the everyday might be why the song has meant so much to so many people for so long. When Sisters Underground performed the song to close the 2013 Sliver Scroll Awards, they were shocked at their reception.
People were dancing, singing all the lyrics, even crying. A testament, perhaps, to the importance of representation, highlighting as Hassanah says, “what it meant for them to see just regular kids from the kinds of neighbourhoods they came from on TV.”
About the Artists
Brenda and Hassanah went to school and lived in the same neighbourhood of Ōtara and became friends when they were thirteen years old.
Initially the two performed in halls in South Auckland and then were linked up with producer Alan Jansson who worked with them to record ‘In the Neighbourhood’, which was released in 1994 alongside a music video that focussed on their upbringing in the suburb of Ōtara.
The song charted in New Zealand for 12 weeks and went on to become a hit in Australia. It even made the European charts including the Top 10 of the Italian dance chart. In 1995 they were named ‘The Most Promising Group’ at the New Zealand Music Awards.