Arif Usmani 1949-2013


Arif Mohammed Usmani

10 July 1949 – 30th June 2013

Musician, Composer, Playwright, Creative Director, Promoter,
Producer, Radio DJ, Painter & Decorator

Born David Martin Neumegen in Auckland, New Zealand. Educated at St Kentigern College and the University of Auckland, where he obtained a Bachelor of Laws. It was his lawyer father, Carl Neumegen, who wished him to study law but Arif never went into practice. He was drawn to composing and performing.

In 1967 he founded the Frank E. Evans Lunchtime Entertainment Band, a fringe group that was dedicated to the music from the 1920s and 30s. The band celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2007.

In 1969 he co-founded the Auckland Student Pirate radio station, Radio Bosom (bFM), which is still broadcasting today at the Auckland University, although no longer illegally. He wrote and hosted children’s radio shows for them for ten years.

In 1971 he moved to London and formed the Demolition Decorators Troup, experimenting in street theater and performance. It was around this time that he became a Muslim Sufi.

He returned to Auckland in 1981 with his wife Jan. Apparently they were short of a witness at their wedding so they ran outside and found a passerby. Jan died in a freak car accident leaving Arif with two young children to support.

He founded The Aunties Children’s Theatre in 1982 when he took up the position of organiser of a newly established artwork project to set up creative schemes for the unemployed. This name was inspired by Kohanga Reo Maori language nests where the female adults are known as “aunties”.

Over the next twenty years The Aunties created and performed in festivals, libraries, concert halls, schools, pre schools and corporate functions. He wrote and produced twelve large-scale full-theatre family musicals and over 200 scripts including five bilingual Maori Legend shows. He regularly wrote shows for the National Maritime Museum. Arif wrote twenty-five albums of original songs. During the school holidays, all of the children performed in the Aunties shows. To make ends meet, with a large family to feed, Arif partnered a house painting business.

His wife, Lynn Usmani, is a magician and between them they created many illusions and routines. Many of these can be seen in their television series, The Aunties Alphabet, which was repeated on New Zealand television sixteen times.

In 2002 Arif moved to Melbourne with his new partner, Karen Jarvis and co-founded the Starfish Magic Children’s Theatre performing at the Moomba Festival, St Kilda Festival, Casey Kids Carnival and Whittlesea Festival and the Melbourne Aquarium. They returned to New Zealand in 2005.

Over his lifetime Arif created thirty-six albums of music, both for children and adults. He composed over 1,500 songs and his shows contained many magic routines, many set to a song. He worked with many NZ musicians such as Don McGlashan, Peter Neumegen, The Jews Brothers, Phil Dadson and Nigel Gavin. He experimented with many themes, many of them challenging human failings such as bullying and racism. He loved animals; many of his songs were about them, especially teddy bears, rabbits and mice. At one time he owned a menagerie including a goat and a parrot.

He passed away after a lengthy illness and is sadly missed by his six children and partners Lynn and Karen and his brothers Peter and John.

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