In a world saturated with reality TV drivel, it is refreshing to see some intelligent TV. However, it takes a special kind of a maverick to bring us such enlightening programming. Someone who can cross physical boundaries with a digital knapsack of possessions. Someone like Nick Dwyer.
When we met up with Nick D at a TV editing suite he was helping put the final touches on the new series of Making Tracks. Although he is exhausted after rising at 5am to prepare for his breakfast host role on George FM you wouldn’t register his fatigue at all. In fact, Nick conveys absolute enthusiasm, regaling us with tales of his recent adventures on the road filming Making Tracks. He tells of being followed by the Hezbollah in Beirut, witnessing the ‘daggering’ dance craze in Trinidad and also of arriving in London without having a band to record Chris Knox’s ‘Not Given Lightly’.
Nick admits this second series of Making Tracks is a slicker production than the first. There are now A-grade acts to interpret the 8 well-loved of Kiwi songs. While many of the musicians won’t be familiar to Kiwi viewers, they are huge artists in their native countries. Using his global network of contacts, Nick was able to lock down his wish list of artists after spending hundreds of hours firing off emails and on the phone in the middle of the night.
Nicks tells us that part of his mission for this Series was to update the dusty reputation of ‘world music’.
“Despite great festivals like WOMAD, world music often gets a bad rap. People think of Clannad or Johnny Clegg and the smell of patchouli,” says Nick. “The fact is that much of the most exciting music being made in 2010 is from obscure locations; not just New York and London. Places like Rio de Janiero or Ghana have rich musical histories and are producing amazing music. So Making Tracks is showcasing world music 2.0. A great example is Amadou & Mariam, a blind couple from Mali who operate out of Paris. They are huge in the Francophile world, performed at Barack Obama’s inauguration, supported Blur at their reunion gig at Hyde Park and headlined the FIFA World Cup ceremony in South Africa. We asked them to cover ‘Hope’ by Fat Freddy’s Drop, which is incredible.”
The notion that music transcends all boundaries is an endearing aspect of the show. The interpretive nature of the project bears fruit down every side alley, recording studio, bazaar and night club. Nick reflects on one particular occasion that demonstrates how a cover song can be modified to give meaning in a new setting.
“Our trip to Ghana was interesting. Wanlov The Kubukor covered Hollie Smith’s ‘Bathe in the River’. In their version they translated the chorus into pigeon (a hybrid language of African dialects and English) and spoke of how rivers used to run through the capital city of Accra. So that song turns into social comment about how nature’s course has been corrupted by urbanization and pollution. As a lover of music, one of the greatest things is contextualization. That is what makes the show so exciting.”
It is obvious that Making Tracks is designed to satisfy hipsters and music aficionados. It is informed at street level, but it definitely ain’t no ‘Pimp My Song’. For this reason, the National Geographic channel saw the universal appeal of this travel/musical odyssey, and recently picked up the show for international release early in 2011. Their financial backing, along with the assistance of Telecom made it possible for Series 2 to survive the recession. This is proof that great ideas can blossom – even in tough economic times.
“Travel shows are expensive to make and - with an international schedule - the legal clearance of tracks is a laborious and costly pursuit. In that sense, much of the work was done before we even picked up a camera. Our schedule and hook-ups were all locked down, so when we finally hit the road it was a blast. Of course, it was stressful at times, but we had no major blunders. Nothing like in the first series; where on the third day of a 60-day shoot a taxi driver took off with all our gear!”
Whether Nick is clubbing in Tokyo with electro-pop sensation Tigarah, or riding shotgun through the mean streets of Buenos Aires with a local ghetto superstar playing 10 gigs a night to avoid crowd violations; Making Tracks is a tour de force. It is a show that celebrates youth culture and also a reverence for musical traditions.
The fact that Making Tracks is a New Zealand show is always a bonus. Nick tells us that he happily uses the naïve charm of our national reputation to embellish the show.“It works on a few levels. Firstly, the artists themselves are delighted that their music has travelled so far round the world. They are honoured to be part of the project. The second aspect is the global curiosity about New Zealand. I don’t think it would work if you were taking UK or US songs on the road. It is also a disarming thing being a Kiwi. In the Caribbean you can meet some pretty staunch characters, but as soon as they learn you are from NZ their militant crossed arms turn into big smiles and an open embrace.”
A consummate tastemaker of all musical genres, Nick has ensured that the re-interpretation of kiwi classics is a concept with ongoing potential.
“You’re only limited by the number of music destinations in the world. We’ve barely dipped our toes in the water.” He quips, already looking forward to Series 3.Nick D and Making Tracks returns to our screens for the second series of globetrotting and musical manifestations on C4 TV on October 26th.