It would be fanciful to think that three guys from Auckland could collaborate for the first time and produce an international hit that would sell over two million records and hit #1 in five countries – New Zealand, Australia, Canada, Austria, and the USA – but they did, how bizarre?
Pauly Fuemana (above) came from the largely Polynesian suburb of Otara in South Auckland surrounded by Pacific island church and soul music, he and his brother Phil formed the hip-hop outfit Otara Millionaires Club in 1992, the band’s name was a facetious reference to Otara which is one of the poorest suburbs in Auckland.
Alan Jansson (above left with Pauly) was a music industry insider with songwriting and production skills, he had already produced local NZ hits, including a top five hit with Pulsing in 1982, as a member of synth-pop band Body Electric.
He had worked with Simon Grigg (above left with Pauly) who was a band manager, DJ, club owner and A&R manager, Jansson and Grigg were aware of Pauly Fuemana, and the team behind How Bizarre gradually came together.
Re-named OMC, the group comprised Fuemana and Jansson when they signed to Grigg’s Huh! Record label in 1995, Jansson developed the musical accompaniment and arrangement around the basic lyrics provided by Fuemana.
The song is quirky and combines the different musical influences of pop, rap, Latin, and islander rhythms by juxtaposing metronomic beats with mariachi trumpets and brass, acoustic guitar, harmonica and Fuemana’s south seas islander version of rap, sandwiched between the breathy backing vocals of Seena Sipaia.
Lyrically the song is quite accessible “Brother Pele is in the back/ Sweet Seena’s in the front/ Cruising down the freeway/ In the hot, hot sun” but it’s also cryptic “Ringmaster steps up/ Says the elephants left town/ People jump and jive/ And the clowns inch back around.” which was a reference to a goal break, with the police in hot pursuit of the escapees.
The promo video featured Pauly, Seena and brother Pele in a red convertible Chevrolet Impala cruising the town, dancing, rapping and Pauly occasionally breathing fire; a second video was shot on a sound stage at Ellerslie Racecourse and was also on high rotation in the US throughout 1997. The song was an international smash hit, it stayed on the Australian charts for 24 weeks and was the fifth biggest-selling record of 1996 outperforming such acts as Oasis, Savage Garden, and Toni Braxton in the process, sold over two million copies and was the biggest-selling local NZ single ever, until Lorde came along with Royals in 2014, and racked up over 20 million accredited sales.
A follow up hit proved elusive for OMC outside of New Zealand, Right On charted at #63 in Australia but top 5 in NZ, and in 1996 and they took Land of Plenty to #4 in their homeland.
But the group was disintegrating and in dispute with Grigg over royalties and between Jansson and Fuemana over songwriting royalty entitlements, Fuemana was declared bankrupt in 2006 and sadly passed away in 2010 at the age of 40, leaving his wife Kirstine and their six children. (Kirstine above with Imogen, Santos, and Salvador).
How Bizarre is generally regarded as the biggest One-Hit Wonder in NZ recording history, given the enormous success OMC enjoyed internationally with the song, and their complete disappearance from global charts after their debut hit; but there are other much less worthy NZ records that deserve the One-Hit Wonder tag including a spate of execrable charters in the 1980’s – Sierra Leone (Coconut Rough), Shoop, Shoop, Diddy Wop, Cumma Cumma , Wang Dang (Monte Video and the Cassettes), Lydia (Fur Patrol), For Today (Netherworld Dancing Troupe), The Bridge (Deane Waretini), and Fools Love (Misfits of Science).