Conflict & Resistance - Ria Hall's 'Rules of Engagement'

Published: Tue 24 Oct 2017 08:52 AM
Conflict & Resistance - Ria Hall's Rules of Engagement
The Tauranga Campaign was a six-month-long armed conflict in the Bay of Plenty in early 1864, part of the New Zealand Wars that were fought over issues of land ownership and sovereignty. The campaign was a sequel to the invasion of Waikato aimed at crushing the Māori King (Kingitanga) Movement which the colonial government considered to be a direct challenge to the supremacy of the British monarchy. Considered one of the most important battles of the New Zealand Wars, the Battle of Gate Pā (Pukehinahina) was a key Māori victory in the tribal area of Tauranga Moana.
On the afternoon of 28 April, British commander General Duncan Cameron launched an hour-long attack on the front of Gate Pā with four batteries of artillery, including a 110-pounder Armstrong gun, two 40-pounder and two six-pounder Armstrongs, two 24-pounder howitzers, two eight-inch mortars and six Coehorn mortars. Late in the night, under cover of darkness and rain, Colonel Henry Greer moved seven hundred men from the 68th Regiment across swamps to the east of Gate Pā to take up a position to the rear of the redoubt to cut off a Māori retreat. His forces were joined by a detachment of the Naval Brigade from the warships Esk, Falcon, and HMS Miranda.
By daybreak on 29 April, Cameron had a total of about 1,650 men surrounding the Pā. The assembled guns and mortars opened fire at dawn, pounding the Pā for more than eight hours, destroying the palisade and completely suppressing Māori gunfire. An estimated thirty tonnes of shell and shot were dropped on or near the Māori position and about fifteen were killed. At about 4pm, with no sign of life in the Pā, Cameron ordered an assault by three hundred men who ran in four abreast with fixed bayonets. Another three hundred soldiers followed at a distance as a reserve force. Some in the initial assault force were shot as they entered the main Pā, and more fell inside the redoubt as they engaged in hand-to-hand combat with Māori armed with shotguns and tomahawks. A lull of about five minutes occurred, during which time Captain GR Greaves, who was with the leading files of the assault party, left the Pā and reported to Cameron that the redoubt had been captured and British casualties had been light.
Minutes later, however, everything had changed. In a sequence of events that is still unclear, fierce fighting erupted, taking a heavy toll on the invaders and panicked British forces began streaming out of the Pā. Historian James Cowan wrote: "More than a hundred of the assaulting column were casualties, and the glacis and the interior of the pā were strewn with dead or dying. The Māoris suffered too, but not severely." Despite vastly outnumbering their enemy, thirty-one British soldiers died, including ten officers, and eighty were wounded.
Gate Pā was the single most devastating loss suffered by the British military in the New Zealand Wars: while British casualties numbered over a third of the storming party, Māori losses totaled about twenty-five. Gate Pā was considered a shattering and humiliating defeat, with one newspaper noting that the "gallant" force had been "trampled in the dust ... by a horde of half-naked, half-armed savages". Grey, horrified by the disaster, began exploring ways to limit the extent of land confiscations in order to reduce Māori resistance. He visited Tauranga on 12 May to confer with Cameron and engaged some neutral Māori to act as intermediaries with the Kingites to negotiate a peace agreement. Seven weeks later, British forces saved face by routing their enemy at the Battle of Te Ranga, in which over eighty Māori were killed or fatally wounded, including their commander, Rawiri Pukirake.
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Concerned with the perennial themes of conflict and resistance, Rules of Engagement took five years for Ria Hall to complete. Her key inspiration came specifically from a letter written by Henare Taratoa (Ngāi Te Rangi) in March 1864 to the Governor of New Zealand, Sir George Grey, which outlined how both Māori and British should conduct themselves in battle. This code of conduct became known as the 'Rules of Engagement' and the album features kōrero about both the battles of Pukehinahina and Te Ranga from Hall's great-uncle Turirangi Te Kani.
Hall was born in 1982 or 1983 of Ngāi Te Rangi/Ngāti Ranginui ancestry. The youngest of four sisters, she grew up in Maungatapu and first became interested in singing through kapa haka at secondary school. In 2006 she formed the reggae band Hope Road and in 2011 sang at the opening ceremony of the Rugby World Cup. The same year she released her debut self-titled EP, which won Best Māori Album at the 2012 New Zealand Music Awards. From 2012-13, Hall was a presenter on Māori TV's AIA Marae DIY. In 2013 she featured as a guest vocalist on Stan Walker's single Like It's Over. She describes her musical influences as mainly roots reggae, raga, soul, and hip hop, while her mother loved listening to country music.
Hall has collaborated profitably with a diverse array of artists in the past, including Fly My Pretties, Tiki Taane, and Electric Wire Hustle. Mostly mixed by Taane at Tikidub Studios, her new album's sixteen tracks move effortlessly from hip-hop beats to lush soulful arrangements and feature performances from Taane, Kings, Laughton Kora, Mara TK, and Che Fu. Hall’s pure and powerful voice shines brightly on Love Will Lead Us Home, Tell Me, Barely Know, and the beautiful Black Light. Ralph Hotere died while the album was in development and Black Light is dedicated to his memory, with lyrics inspired by his artwork. Mara TK helped coin the song and also features on this track.
Rules Of Engagement is clearly a passionate cri de coeur, featuring Hall as the central narrator. Aiming to create an honest dialogue about both the positive and negative aspects of New Zealand history, the album upholds the integrity of Maori culture amongst modern musical sounds and the current cultural climate. The opening track, In These Trenches, is a specific call to arms, with the poet Te Kahupakea Rolleston demanding to know “Will you rise?” The second song, Te Kawa o Te Riri, showcases Hall's commanding vocals and lyrics, delivered entirely in Te Reo Maori. In an album full of powerful moments, Hall’s use of Te Reo is both richly layered and highly evocative. “There is so much power in the language, and everything it stands for. It’s presence in this album is like the air I breathe," she insists. Barely Know touches on the uncertainties of past relationships and places them in a familiar context, while Te Ahi Kai Po (“the fire burning away the darkness”) is inspired by the slaughter at The Battle of Te Ranga, trying to discover the roots of resistance through times of anguish and despair when defeat seems imminent. Spoken word archival recordings of Turirangi Te Kani from 1968 feature on three tracks (50,000 Acres, The Battle, and Te Ranga), adding another personal dimension to the mix. Considered as a fully-integrated concept album, Rules Of Engagement provides a personally-guided tour not only through Hall’s own life and experiences, but also through the shared experiences of her whanau.
Although inspired by a significant time in New Zealand’s history, the themes of Rules Of Engagement remain universal and highly relevant. Hall is staunchly unafraid to challenge the status quo and to ask hard questions, not in a spirit of confrontation, but rather from a profoundly raw and honest perspective: “The key message in my album is to encourage understanding. In order to understand where we are heading to, 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.” The twin themes of the album - conflict and resistance - translate to all places where oppression is still present.
Completing the album has itself proved a huge test of Hall's personal resilience, "much like the concept of the album really. The initial conception and development started in Wellington, where I lived for past ten years … Then, with life taking over and everything in between, it was completed in Tauranga, my spiritual home. And it all makes sense, even though it’s taken this long to complete, and I’m really happy with the outcome."
Hall is an outspoken and fearless artist with resolute ideas about the past and the future - a free-thinking, edgy, and unapologetic soul. Rules of Engagement depicts an epic panorama, combining many genres, and highlighting Hall's incredible vocal range. From the aftermath of war through colonisation to her own personal convictions, it addresses current issues and social problems on multiple levels, confirming her position as a polemical and preeminent voice on the indigenous NZ music scene.
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Hall will premiere the album live at the Tauranga Arts Festival with Wellington three-piece powerhouse The Nudge (Iraia Whakamoe, James Coyle & Ryan Prebble) on October 28, the day after its release on the always adventurous Loop record label. The performance also features a stage set designed by award-winning visual artist Tracey Tawhiao to coincide with the launch of an exhibition designed by Tracey and Ria. A multi-skilled writer, performance poet, and filmmaker, Tawhiao has combined with Hall to create not only the Rules of Engagement stage show, but also an exhibition around the album and its artwork, which will appear both in Tauranga and Auckland.
The exhibition opened on 18 October in Tauranga, and Hall will perform with The Nudge on 28 October. The exhibition moves to Auckland’s Lot23 on 1 November, with an Auckland performance at the same venue on 4 November.
Wednesday October 18 – Tauranga Exhibition Opens, Baycourt Theatre.
Saturday October 28 – Tauranga Arts Festival Performance, Baycourt Theatre.
Wednesday November 1 – Auckland Exhibition Opens, Lot23.
Saturday November 4 – Auckland Album Release Show, Lot23.
Howard Davis
Scoop Arts Editor
Educated at Cambridge and UCLA; worked on several major Hollywood feature films and as a Kundalini Yoga instructor in Los Angeles; currently enjoying life in Wellington.
Contact Howard Davis

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