Graham Reid | | 4 min read
Ria Hall's previous album Rules of Engagement in 2017 was one of this country's most impressive debut albums in terms of its musical and lyrical scope which included spoken word and archival recordings woven into songs – in English and te reo – which reflected history and culture in Aotearoa in way few other albums could even thing of approaching.
That means expectation was high for its follow-up Manawa Wera just released, an album of deep roots reggae grooves with themes of knowledge, empowerment, Nature and subtle tino rangatiratanga.
It channels the spirits of positivity, soul music and classic Bob Marley with waiata, dub and danceable grooves.
Time then for Ria Hall to answer some very personal questions.
Where did you grow up, and with who?
I grew up in Maungatapu, a suburb of Tauranga with my 3 older sisters and heaps of extended whānau.
Was music an important part of your childhood?
Yes. If the radio wasn’t on in the garage with dad tinkering around, the boombox was on in the house with one of my sisters playing something cool. Music was always prevalent in our household, morning and night.
What are your earliest childhood memories of music which really affected you . . .
Being on the marae and listening to my aunties sing with the Ratana church choir. Hearing their blended tones at such a young age was bliss and had a profound impact on me.
Was there a time when you felt it was going to be music and nothing else?
When I was about 17 and started to gig I knew this music thing was more than just a part time situation. By the time I was 19 I was in Australia singing 6 nights a week and knew that I didn’t want to do anything else. Although I did do other things! But those things have always lead me back to music. It was already written for me, I reckon!
When you started on your music career were people around you supportive or did you have to find those people?
I would like to think people were really supportive. To be honest with you, I don’t think it bothered me too much. I was too young to notice and loved what I did too much to care what anyone else thought. Although I do remember my dad always asking me when I was going to get a ‘real job’ which I thought was hilarious. And then when I wasn’t singing he’d ask ‘when’s your next gig?’ honestly, he was a hoot.
The first song of yours which you really felt proud of was . . .? And why that one?
I’m proud of all my songs. It’s important to be in love with what you do, because you put all of yourself into it! But if there was a standout, it’s probably ‘Te Ahi Kai Pō’ from my last album ‘Rules of Engagement’. This song evokes so many emotions for me, it never seems to get old. It also encompasses everything I love – historical narratives, te reo Māori and the art of storytelling woven into a tapestry of beautiful soundscapes.
Any one person you'd call a mentor, angel on your shoulder or invaluable fellow traveller?
I’ve had many mentors and teachers over the years. It’s tough to pinpoint just one as I feel like I am learning something new every day.
Where and when was the first time you went on stage as a paid performer?I hadn’t quite turned 18, and I was singing with my cousin at a pub just off Federal street in Auckland. It was a dive and no one was there but that meant I was able to sing what I wanted and not care.
Ever had stage fright or just a serious failure of nerve before going on stage?
All the time. It still happens at almost every gig. I love being nervous, it means you give a shit.
As a songwriter, do you carry a notebook or have a phone right there constantly to grab ideas they come? Or is your method something different?
My phone is my go-to note pad. There’s a million hums of tunes and lyrics on there!
What unfashionable album do you love as a guilty pleasure?
I don’t do unfashionable. Hehe.
Any piece of advice you were given which you look back on which really meant something?
Work ethic is everything. And it is – talent only gets you so far. You have to be willing to put in the yards even if it makes you uncomfortable.
It's after a concert and you are in a hotel room or back at home, what happens then?
Cuppa tea and a sleep! Maybe a little sweet treat. I’m a māmā now so sleep is the new addiction.
Is there any fellow artist you admire for professional and/or personal reasons?
So many! But any artist who continues to write, perform, collaborate, tour and has been doing so for years. I hope to be doing the same!
And finally, where to from here for you do you think?
I have no idea! But that’s so exciting to me. Bring it on!
You can hear Manawa Wera at Spotify here.