Interview: Ria Hall Rises Up On ‘Rules Of Engagement’
Ria Hall

New Zealand’s Ria Hall celebrates culture and diversity on her debut solo full-length album, Rules Of Engagement. 

Hall found inspiration from her Māori heritage and history, drawing on themes of love, war, revolution and change, inspired by New Zealand’s Battle of Gate Pa in 1864. The singer incorporates trip-hop, funk, and soul as she sings wholeheartedly of the culture she cherishes and wishes to share with the world. While an undercurrent of forewarning runs through the record, Rules of Engagement’s ultimate message is to uplift, and encourage those facing opposition to rise up and protect and embrace who they are in the face of dissent.

Hall upholds her own Māori culture by incorporating her native language Te Reo Māori, on the album, along with archival recordings from 1968 of Hall’s great-uncle, Turirangi Te Kani.

“The key message in my album is to encourage understanding,” says Hall. “In order to understand where we are heading, we must not only acknowledge our past, we must understand its implications and the effect it has had on the current landscape of New Zealand. We can do so much better in this area and it seems we have only made incremental change. I would love to help effect a dramatic shift for the betterment of generations to come.”

Rules Of Engagement debuted at number two on the iTunes charts in Australia and New Zealand and Ria recently performance in Washington, D.C. for the opening of the Tuku Iho exhibit at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, which celebrated traditional art from Hall’s rich Māori culture.

Culture Collide spoke to Ria Hall about her upbringing, the parallels between uprisings in New Zealand and the US, spreading understanding, and the one thing she does every day. Read on below.

Culture Collide: When looking back on New Zealand’s history, what made you want to focus in on the 1864 Battle of Gate Pa as inspiration for the record? 
Ria Hall: I come from Tauranga, which is where the battle of Gate Pā took place. It involved my own tribes, so I was naturally drawn to this part of New Zealand history, as it is my own.

CC: What about the current climate do you think has given rise to resurgence of traditional Māori culture? 
Ria: There has never been a time in our history where we have completely relinquished our culture and who we are. It’s more a renaissance than a resurgence,  where the labor of those gone before is beginning to bare fruit. New Zealand is a multi-cultural society, with Māori culture giving this place its grounding and foundation.

CC: Share a few things that you especially want people to know about the Māori culture: 
Ria: We are Polynesian, closely linked to our Pacific island cousins. We are proud of our country and our people. We have a unique culture and language that we wish to share with the world.

CC: What was the musical landscape like for you growing up? Who were some of your early influences? 
Ria: Motown, reggae and hip hop were favourites in my household. A bit of country music never went astray either. I’m pretty eclectic.

CC: Your great-uncle, Turirangi Te Kani, is featured on the record. What sparked the idea to use his archival recordings?
Ria: He became another kind of narrator on my record. He contextualized the Battles of Gate Pā and Te Ranga through these archival recordings, as the interviews were conducted 50 years ago. I wanted to have my family involved in some capacity, and then his voice appeared after I found recordings through our local tribal radio station here in Tauranga. I feel very blessed and honoured to have his voice grace my album.

CC: What are some parallels you see between New Zealand’s protest movement of the 1960s and the U.S. civil rights movement? 
Ria: There were many social movements that were beginning to take shape throughout the 1960’s and 1970’s in New Zealand – given the unrest of Māori and Pacific Islanders and the oppression we were collectively facing. This gave rise to groups such as the Polynesian Panthers (a movement inspired directly from the Black Panthers) and Ngā Tama Toa who were instrumental at major political rallies and protests of the time. There are definitely some similarities, although many differences as well.

CC: You said the key message on your album is to “encourage understanding” and to understand the past’s current impact on the present. How do you see this playing out across the world with things like the NFL controversy and the Black Lives Matter movement? 
Ria: I believe that in order for anyone on earth to truly get context of any situation, there needs to be understanding. Bridges built to forge relationships and move ahead into the future with love being the foundation. That is the greatest legacy we can leave our children.

CC: What are some tools, like music, that you see as helping to forge this understanding? 
Ria: The arts is the most powerful way to achieve this. I’ve seen it happen and move mountains. We can also share more, discuss more, open up more.

CC: What is one thing you make time for every day? 
Ria: Gratitude. Even if its just a minute to give thanks for health and prosperity.

CC: What is energizing you for 2018? 
Ria: A new year! That means a new outlook for 365 days. Time to figure out what the next journey will be, and what lessons it will bring.

Listen to Ria Hall’s Rules Of Engagement here.