What’s Be Happen? The discourse of reggae lyrics thirty years on


  • Elizabeth Anne Turner




song lyrics, social commentary, reggae


This article discusses Whats’ Be Happen, New Zealand’s first reggae album, which was released by the band Herbs in July 1981. The lyrics and adopted ‘message music’ constitute a nexus that connects, marks and speaks of salient political events and social issues in the 1970s and early 1980s. These divided New Zealand society at the time, and have helped shape opinion and New Zealanders’ sense of their identity. The lyrics refer in particular to protests against the loss of Māori ancestral lands; the struggle to end apartheid in South Africa; the conflict between loss of Pacific Island identity and roots, and material ambitions in New Zealand, as well as the day to day experiences and police treatment of urban Māori and Pacific Island people.

Author Biography

Elizabeth Anne Turner

Elizabeth Turner is a senior lecturer in the School of Languages at Auckland University of Technology. Her research interests include the discourse analysis of song lyrics and the relationships between lyrics and their social and political context, academic literacies, academic needs analysis, and academic writing pedagogy.




How to Cite

Turner, E. A. (2012). What’s Be Happen? The discourse of reggae lyrics thirty years on. Sites: A Journal of Social Anthropology and Cultural Studies, 9(2), 23–38. https://doi.org/10.11157/sites-vol9iss2id184