Ria Hall talks Yadana Saw through her new album Manawa Wera, which explores the personal and political through Aotearoa reggae.
Ria Hall’s new album Manawa Wera is true to its name in approach, execution and intent.
Manawa (heart), wera (hot) means “being fervent of heart and passionate”. For Ria the album name reflects what she sees as the increasingly urgent cries from indigenous movements around the world.
Written during the time when indigenous land rights struggles were dominating the news, Ria says she and co-writer Laughton Kora were “in the thick of” Ihumātao and Hawaii’s Mauna Kea campaigns.
Manawa Wera was written and recorded in eight days while Ria was heavily pregnant with her first child. For Ria the tight timeframe gave the album purpose and focus.
“Being 36 weeks pregnant and recording an album was quite a big ask for a first time mama - but we got through it.”
She credits her “homeslices” Rob Ruha, Troy Kingi and Laughton Kora lending their voices, as well as the “incredible” Warren Maxwell arranging and playing various instruments.
“Manawa Wera in its entirety was to reference and uplift the mana of Aotearoa reggae from the perspective of a wahine Māori.”
“It’s about our own resilience as people.”
Manawa Wera by Ria Hall track-by-track
What ‘History’ is trying to elaborate on is that we all live in a country where history is all around us and we actually don’t have a clue about it.
Māori history here is everywhere but for the most part it has been hidden, so it’s about revealing those histories and it’s important for non-Maori too.
Obviously the convergence of Pākehā and Māori coming together we need to understand that better.
This song is a great example of how we can better understand ourselves is when someone we don’t know introduces themselves via a mihi you get a little bit of them in a small snapshot.
Cause and Effect
"She’s a queen upon a throne/and I’m a mountain set in stone"
In this particular instance I was referring to myself as someone who is unwavering in her belief and her convictions.
“She’s a queen upon her throne” there is no way that I was going to ascend in order to please someone else for no reason, I am set in stone. I have conviction. I am fervent of heart.
I thought it was an interesting narrative and an interesting way to position the lyric.
I wanted to explore that notion of whatever you do something is going to happen as a consequence of your actions - and it might be positive!
The top message in this song is how different the Western view of ownership and the Indigenous worldview are.
From my perspective the Māori worldview is so contrastingly different, it’s crazy, crazy different. We don’t “own” land, we merely recipients of it and we look after the land.
When you give birth to your baby you then birth the whenua- the placenta.
So we look at our land (whenua) as one and the same - a part of me, a part of you. The ocean - it’s the same. The trees, the environment, everything - our taiao. It’s intrinsic and holistically viewed, whereas if you look at it from the other perspective it’s not really that way inclined and that’s where we battle.
This song is about trying to come together into some kind of understanding, to find a meeting point because we view the world and our environment in completely different lights.
Ihumātao also spurred this conversation on, in terms of writing this waiata, because it is relevant and has been relevant for so many years. But also in every single part of the country and around the world we have our own versions of Ihumātao.
I wrote this while carrying my son Te Rongotoa and the correlation between the tidal shifts and the relationship the water has with the moon.
I was thinking about those things in relation to baby in utero and relationship of mother and child in utero. It was all those emotions and metaphors
I remember writing this song and being on the deck of whare which overlooks our estuary and that night there was a supermoon. It was amazing and the most natural waiata to write.
It’s probably one of the most coolest, vibey-est, chill songs I’ve written.
We were ruminating on a group of people chanting, praying, inoi for a higher purpose.
I was thinking about Mauna Kea and some of my Hawaiian friends who were there praying, chanting, in inoi, they were in ritual everything single day on the maunga. That was the visual for ‘Chant.
I think of my own iwi on the occasions we come together to chant, and pray and sing but we sing from a real guttural space because that is what it requires.
This song made me reassess and reflect on my own spirituality and how “hooked in” you are to that.
'I’d rather walk alone'
Sometimes I prefer to do things of my own accord and in my own mana.
Everyone has their own mana and sometimes I don’t need to be carrying other baggage that doesn’t serve me, so I’m going to shed those layers and walk alone.
It can be quite intimidating to be that person, but I don’t think it is a negative thing, it’s just how some women and some people are.
Warren Maxwell plays flute on this, he arranges all the horns throughout this album. He’s the one-take, two-take master. That man is vibe central and then comes in with his flute and blows the roof off. It’s just a never ending cycle of goodness with that man!
I’m so happy he gave his heart to this record and made time.
This is a nice reflective state to be in when that last song comes in and you hear that guitar riff at the start.
And just a nice simple vocal with a simple three-four part harmony.