Belfast Telegraph

CD Music: Is this the next Norah Jones?

Bic Runga is a massive star in her native New Zealand. She came to Europe to avoid seeing her picture everywhere - but it's happening all over again, as John Meagher finds out

By John Meagher newsdesk@belfasttelegraph.co.uk

The name Bic Runga is unlikely to mean much in this part of the world. But it sure as hell does in New Zealand. The 28-year-old is as famous there as Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson, opera super star Kiri Te Kanawa or rugby giant Jonah Lomu.

The name Bic Runga is unlikely to mean much in this part of the world. But it sure as hell does in New Zealand. The 28-year-old is as famous there as Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson, opera super star Kiri Te Kanawa or rugby giant Jonah Lomu.

The best-selling domestic musician in New Zealand's album chart, she has stacked up staggering sales. Her first album, Drive, was still at No 1 a year after its release in 1997, going seven times platinum.

Her second effort, Beautiful Collision, has shifted even more units since hitting the shelves in 2002. She's also been garlanded with awards of all descriptions.

Unsurprisingly, her label Sony is now trying to spread her success worldwide. Touted as the next Norah Jones on this side of the world, Beautiful Collision is only now being released in Europe.

It's a marvellous record that recalls the Cocteau Twins, Bjork and Kate Bush. It's also a classic DIY album, for which Runga has written all the songs, played most of the instruments and produced the whole thing as well - although occasional REM drummer Joey Waronker and ex-Crowded House mainman Neil Finn feature as well.

As for the Norah Jones comparisons, she does sound a little like her and there is a huge market for well-crafted, easy-listening music right now. And like Norah Jones, Bic Runga isn't exactly lacking in the looks department: half-Chinese, half-Maori, she is jaw-droppingly beautiful.

Runga would rather be compared to men. "Just because I'm a woman, people think I should be compared to other women," she says, sipping tea. "But it's just lazy. I'm just as influenced by David Bowie as Missy Elliott."

Missy Elliot is one of the few contemporary artists Runga admires. She says the bulk of the music she loves has been made by "people who are over 50 or who are dead."

Bic Runga is in Ireland to recruit a band for a forthcoming European tour. "If I can't find musicians here where can I?" she laughs. "I just got fed up playing on my own. It can be a lonely boring life. I need people around me."

Born Briolette Kahbic Runga in Christchurch, she comes from a family who are all well-known back home. Her sister Boh fronts the band Stellar, and another sister, Pearl, sings.

She says her childhood was tough and racism was a constant feature.

"Relationships can be really bad between Maoris and others," she says. "The Australian situation is probably better known abroad, but unfortunately New Zealand can be a racist place too."

Now based in Paris, Runga says huge sales figures don't really interest her. She says she left New Zealand because she was sick of seeing herself in the newspapers.

"I'm living in a really great city, I'm getting to do something that I've always wanted to do. People always ask me if I'll be bothered if I don't become a big star over here. But what's success anyway?

"For someone who's used to working long hours in a fish and chip shop, getting to make music is all the success I need."



Beautifiul Collision is out now.

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