As a Savage DJ, Toko Manuel plays for thousands of people every summer, but being the mentor to the next generation of South Auckland hip-hop artists satisfies him the most.
Jay-Z’s famous line “I’m not a businessman, I’m a businessman” is an apt description of South Auckland hip-hop producer Toko Manuel. Over a 15-year career, the Māngere East resident has held most roles in the music industry, including DJing and producing for multi-award-winning rapper Savage, touring the country with his own group, running a hip-hop radio station and managing a record label.
He says he had an opportunity to meet with Scribe in 2003 to give him the inspiration to go from being a DJ at his peers’ parties to realizing he could do a job with it. “Scribe was one of my partner’s cousins, so he brought him to my house and told me to get me a studio, to learn to make rhythms. I started making music and from there we formed a group called Recommended Dosage.”
The group secured funding for a music video and toured the country with other hip-hop artists, but Manuel quickly realized that he would have to do more than just make music. From there he set up merchandise lines, started a radio station and launched a record label.
But he says it has been his collaboration with the Auckland Council’s real estate development arm, Eke Panuku, that has been the “real game changer” in terms of nurturing the next generation of hip-hop talent. “A boy from Panuku emailed me and said ‘I love what you do and I see your purpose,'” says Manuel. “But I was thinking ‘who is this guy?'”
The guy was Ole Maiava, a senior venue creator from Eke Panuku, and he was looking for someone to host events and play live music at newly developed venues in South Auckland. “Toko was referred [to us] via South Auckland hip-hop artist Savage, “says Maiava.” RepFM had obvious potential and real heart for the South Auckland community, so we involved them in #OurManukau activations. “
Maiava says Manuel is now one of the “go-to” contractors for the organization controlled by the city council because he also makes sure that local youth are being trained on how to “organize events.” [and] learn the council’s event permitting processes, “all while getting paid. Eke Panuku has given Manuel access to two containers of solar energy in the heart of Manukau’s CBD to run his Passion to Profession mentoring program, facilities that they will also be available to other local users in the future.
Manuel says that one of the most important things that he has learned working with Maiava is “to know my worth”, and it is something that he is transmitting to others. “I am sustainable now,” he says. “These contracts have allowed me to run my own free events and workshops with children and I can give other guys a job, so everything has been built from there.”
Manuel hires a group of 10 young people each year to teach them how to hone their craft and “turn this music thing into a job.” He says the key is to create great music and then leverage it to create other sources of income, such as selling merchandise, hosting events, or through royalties. “My goal is to work with these children until they own their own business, so that they understand the taxes, the GST, the expenses and everyone also understands what March 31 means.”
One of the most promising artists he works with is his own son, Justin, also known as J Hustle, who recently signed with Savage’s TMRW Music label in Australia, as well as producing a line of clothing, sunglasses and watches.
As a high school dropout who grew up watching friends and family commit crimes, Manuel says that watching his son “break the cycle” and get into music is a dream come true. “My son has never seen the side of the streets that I saw as a child,” says the proud father of four. “I was not in gangs, but many members of my family were and I grew up in an environment where there were no opportunities and I got caught up in all the wrong things. So finding music was really an opportunity to change my life.”
He admits that while his various music ventures have not been very profitable, the combination of his different efforts has ensured that he can continue to run his mentoring programs for free to unlock the potential of young people in his area.
“Our kids around here look up to drug dealers and gangsters,” he says. “I have seen 13 and 14 year olds on Harley Davidsons, so we have to promote a different option for our kids. If I can give any child a template on how to succeed in music and stop dealing drugs or robbing, then I am totally in favor “.
And he believes that the key to success for these children is staying true to their neighborhood, just like him.
“I am forming diamonds in the rough and I am one of the only people who do this, because this is where I am from, because someone from the community is needed to make it work. And those who do it will do it are those who know how to survive and have that street background. “
Local Democracy Reporting is a public interest news service supported by RNZ, the Association of News Publishers, and NZ On Air.