Hip-Hop Down Under

New Zealand singer/songwriter Pauly Fuemana -- a.k.a. OMC -- is widely known as a hip-hop artist. It's a label Fuemana, who grew up in a tough South Auckland suburb, would just as soon see people forget.

This isn't to say Fuemana denies a hip-hop influence. But one CD into his solo career as OMC, Fuemana -- with help from producer/song-writing collaborator Alan Jansson -- is already putting a distinctive spin on his groove-oriented style of music. While his debut CD How Bizarre showcases an artist with a firm handle on a hip-hop groove, it's also rife with unexpected turns and refreshing twists.

The diversity and upbeat feel of How Bizarre is partly a reaction to Fuemana's previous musical experience -- and to a life that has seen more than its share of hardship. Born the youngest of three children to a Nuiean father and Maori mother, Fuemana spent most of his childhood in the suburb of Otara, a community with a reputation for racial tension, gangs and violence. As a teenager, Fuemana was drawn into the gang lifestyle, and he had more than a few run-ins with the law. His misspent youth is a subject Fuemana discusses sparingly, choosing instead to emphasize the fact that he eventually rejected the gang life. That turnaround came after his most recent arrest.

"I [had] just turned 17, I ended up in court and the witness was my mom," he recalls. "She broke down in court, and I had to face that like a man. I said, 'What am I doing here? I've disgraced my family.' So I started doing every job that I could get, working in butcheries, working as a truck hand, you name it."

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Eventually, Fuemana found his escape through music, learning guitar, bass and drums and developing a smooth, warm vocal style. It wasn't long before he had joined the Otara Millionaires Club, the initials of which are the basis for his OMC moniker.

During the early 1990s, the Millionaires Club developed a large New Zealand following for their hard-edged rap sound and their exciting live shows. But when their music began to veer in a darker direction, Fuemana embarked on a solo career. In 1995, he hooked up with Jansson, and the pair began collaborating on a batch of songs that included "How Bizarre." That one tune, with its flamenco-style guitar, Latinish horn fills and Fuemana's wry, light-hearted lyrics, was enough to get Fuemana signed to Polygram New Zealand's Huh! label. Huh! released the single in summer 1995, and it was an immediate hit. That success was repeated in Australia, where the song spent five weeks at number one, and in the United Kingdom, where it reached the top five. Now, as OMC's tour of the United States rolls along, "How Bizarre" and its stylishly sublime video have caught on big in America.

And while things couldn't be more perfect right now for OMC, it seems there's still time for regrets. "The saddest part of my life is that [my father] never got to see my success and I never got to share it with him. He died and he was like 52 years old," he says. "He'd had a hard life and he was a hard man, and all he'd seen in my life was my failures. I think [his death] was one of my saddest moments."

-- Alan Scully

OMC performs Thursday, August 7, at Numbers, 300 Westheimer. Doors open at 8 p.m. Tickets are $10. The Murmurs open. For info, call 629-3700.

The Mollys -- This radiantly eclectic Tucson, Arizona, quintet is loopier in demeanor, wittier in tongue and less bound to Old World traditions than your typical Celtic folk outfit. They ought to be, considering the variety of influences they juggle both on-stage and on their debut CD, Hat Trick. Since the Mollys' inception in 1990, each member has made his or her mark on the group -- and always, it seems, to the greater benefit of the whole. Singer/guitarist Nancy McCallion provides the Irish influence, and Mexican-American singer/mandolinist Catherine Zavala the Latin flavor, for the signature Anglo/Spanish hybrid that often dictates the direction of the group's pub-friendly fare. Yet there's still room for the playful polkas and Cajun stylings of accordionist Kevin Schramm, and the subtle rhythm and blues leanings of drummer Gary MacKender and bassist Dan Sorenson. Instruments in hand, the Mollys stir up the musical melting pot in a way that is as atypically rowdy as it is perfectly natural. At 8:30 p.m. Thursday, August 7, at McGonigel's Mucky Duck, 2425 Norfolk. Tickets are $8. 528-5999. (Hobart Rowland)

Rosebud -- Technically speaking, Houston's Rosebud first bloomed in 1993. But a band shakeup soon left vocalists Olivia Dvorak and guitarist Art Baez to fend for themselves. Then bassist Ian Barry signed on, and though a Spinal Tap-like propensity for revolving drummers keeps the band in persistent flux, the roster changes haven't much affected their tight, distinctive alt-pop/rock sound. Live, Dvorak's powerful delivery and impressive range tend to draw the most attention, and her head-bobbing and spacy, aerobic energy on-stage have led some to peg her as Natalie Merchant's younger soul sister. Rosebud is currently recording its debut at Houston's Sound Arts studio. Now if they could just find the right drummer.... At 11 p.m. Saturday, August 9, at Mary Jane's, 4216 Washington Avenue. Cover is $5. 869-5263. (Bob Ruggiero)

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