TIME BENDING: How Brown Boy Magik makes and plays with history on his new album ‘Trans Pacific Time’

Brown Boy Magik is Nikolai Talamahina a DJ, coder, club night organiser (Fully Explicit and queer strip night BODY HAUS) and finally after years of toiling and finishing touches — a musician with a debut album out. Dropping a landmark record that not only documents his love for genre-hopping and the South Pacific canon, TRANS PACIFIC TIME walks us through Brown Boy Magik’s evolution and perpetual arrival into the fa’atama/trans masculine experience.

Tell us about your whakapapa, your bloodline, where you’re from.

I’m Niuean and Samoan. I whakapapa to Alofi, Avatele, Liku, Vaimoso, Vaialua and Utulei – Tutuila.

This album has been a long time coming to release for you in more than just one sense right.

Yeah, I think this album definitely might not have seen the light of day. I contemplated a lot about the structure, about how each song would go, but it was more about my transition and becoming the artist that I am now. I held back a lot who I was as an artist after I transitioned because of all the things that I didn’t like about my voice, that journey.

In Aotearoa you’re well known as a DJ, and the club organiser… it’s all under the same umbrella of music, but these are very different strains to what you do as an artist right?

Fuck yeah I think starting off a DJ career, not to be trash about it but… it literally was to make a bag! I think that the climate in Tamaki (Auckland) means you can become a musician, an artist, a DJ, an event facilitator. But in saying that, you do all those things because you kinda have to. You don’t have the choice to just have one one gig. It’d be cool if one gig could sustain you and make enough money to push itself plus be enough for you to live on. Sure. So while DJ’ing was definitely about that, it turned into something more. Something really fun for me. Being an event facilitator and organiser was more about how I saw things being organised in Tamaki. I wasn’t really into playing shows that were organised poorly or half assed. If you’re gonna do a gig properly do it fucking properly? Event facilitation stemmed from being an artist slash not being supported well enough in those realms.

We talk about time a lot, but what does Trans Pacific Time mean for you? Not just as an album title but as a concept?

The concept of the album definitely started as a duet with myself. It started before Trans Pacific Time was named that, it was more of a diary. It wasn’t supposed to be shared, it was literally about my transition and it was gonna be one or two years – pre and post, taking testosterone etc. For me it was just to see where my voice was at, and how far I had come. Obviously the album title was a gag already but I can’t always explain Trans Pacific Time in words. You’re not operating on that common sense of time. It’s a journey rediscovering myself as an artist and what that has meant for me. I think when I started to break away from I guess…. the ‘Western standards’ of music or even just… how I thought about music. I mean shit, I ain’t out here trying to make a three hour album y’know! I know that the people who matter will understand what the concept Trans Pacific Time is… and I think that’s the way it should be. It’s very personalised because I’m on Trans time baby!

You love Pasifika pop culture and this record has a distinctly ‘South Pacific cut’ feel to it. It feels like it really belongs in that crate because this isn’t a flippant contribution to the canon, you put a lot of contextual thought into it.

Towards release day I got to the point where I was like…. this is turning into an album! I did start to think “where do I want to make my entrance point” because I could create that now. I had forgotten about all that bullshit stinkass ‘industry standard’ stuff. So I could wipe my slate clean and start again, consider where I wanted to be, what I wanted the album to sound like. I think this has kind of been like stepping freshly into what I would have done eight years ago as an artist if I could have. There’s a lot of it that revisits the past because there’s so many things that I’ve made in the past that I could never be happy with. I’ve been really really privileged and fortunate especially the featured artist and the collaborations that are on the album. This is like… I’m done! This has been my little Nikolai dream. All the concepts, all the thoughts, people…. it was as if I was backing towards what I always wanted to do. It’s like a dream come true. Amene!

Photos by Todd Karehana

The song 7.4 DUO is special. Tell us how that plays into your personal evolution in timeline.

So 7.4 DUO was partly recorded when I was 17 actually, a past self. It’s quite a soft song and I was an interesting place in my life, not just as an artist. It kind of came back into Trans Pacific Time because I dunno… that’s pretty fucking cool to duet with yourself, not a lot of people can do that! I don’t want to overthink it. I think it’s really sweet, the moment is really beautiful. It was quite emotional for me to re-record on top of myself, not just as a younger trans person at the time but also just as an artist. I think having that opportunity or that just that timeline to come back to a song is quite cool. Not just to leave it. To be able to revisit a work and add something to it, to have it mean something more, something new to me.

What do you love about this record?

I love a lot of stuff about this record. Not gonna lie, I definitely didn’t like it just before I submitted it! Just because of the hypervisibility and I feel like I’m so honest. I feel like what I love about it is that I don’t take a lot of the breaks out of it. And I know friends of mine have said that it’s pretty profesh… but hopefully there’s some nerd out there that’s aggravated by it too! Because I’m not gonna give you the satisfaction, there’s a few songs recorded on my iPhone microphone, there’s cars and birds and random shit in the background from when I was recording in my garage. So what I love about it is that it’s not sparkly clean! There’s a few tracks in there as well that are louder than the others because I’ve mastered them in a way that I enjoy them. And why should I fucking care? So what I love about Trans Pacific Time is that I’m not pressed. It’s not about the work itself but that I am different. Like the way that I’m thinking compared to where I was like, six years ago. I love the album itself for how not-polished it is. Even though some people might want to fight me on that, I feel like it’s not that polished. I also love the features. The features are a whole fucking gag within themselves!

And big news you plan to launch your own label for artists in your community!

Yes, I am! I’m launching my label for Fonuagalo Records after this all simmers down. So definitely keep them eyes open for the announcement. Well this is the announcement… this is the fucking announcement I’m telling you now! (Laughs) Fonuagalo Records stay tuned. It’s for trans Pasifika people, queer Pasifika people. It’s definitely a bootleg label! I ain’t no professional label and I’m not a glorified bank either, so. It’s just really about helping other artists that are definitely within my reach. Helping them do what they want and giving advice if I can.

What is next for you and this body of music? What’s the plan.

To be honest I didn’t really have a plan for this album. The work will be what it will be in the world. It’s more important to me for it to reach different places and get to the people living within the same experiences and identity to me. That’s all it really was for. But I don’t really have a big overall plan for the album. This is definitely a kind of album that you would drive to alone. Maybe go for a walk and play on your like shitty Logitech speakers, it’s definitely that kind of fun. That’s my plan for it. Play it on your fucking mobile phone, ya flip phone, bluetooth it to your mates, no big take over the world buzz. That’s where it’s at for me.

How can people support not only the record but you as an artist and organiser.

Open your purse! Open your damn purse! But also, it doesn’t just start with one artist. It’s cool when everyone supports a whole scene and system of other people too. That’s kind of more important. Yes I would love for you to open your purse (especially if you’re a white man) and go to my brownboymagik.bandcamp.com LOL!

It’s important to actually engage in the work and listen to it too. Look at the recommended artists that I’ll be putting into the suggestions and look at the surgery funds that I’ll always be updating in my link tree as well. You’ll be supporting me in that way.

Support and buy Brown Boy Magik’s music on all platforms, their Bandcamp or listen below