3 Feb 2019

Rob Ruha and Ria Hall on the discipline, stamina and focus they learnt from kapahaka

From Te Ahi Kaa, 6:05 pm on 3 February 2019

This year's ultimate kapa haka festival Te Matatini takes place in Wellington on 21 - 24 February.

Over the next few episodes of Te Ahi Kaa, performers, judges and haka fans share their knowledge about the discipline and evolution of haka.

Rob Ruha and Ria Hall

Rob Ruha and Ria Hall Photo: Supplied

Musicians Ria Hall and Rob Ruha both started at top-level kapahaka, Ria with Te Manu Huia and Te Waka Huia.

They talk to Justine Murray about how kapahaka gave them the discipline, voice projection skills and confidence to pursue full-time music careers.

Kapahaka teaches stamina and a high level of focus, says Rob Ruha. 

His background in haka began at school, and from there he joined his first senior group Koekoea.

His time there was short-lived before he was ‘roped in’ by his aunties to join the Gisborne-based group Waihirere.  

In 1998, Waihirere won the then-named Aotearoa Māori Performing Arts Festival

At just 17, Rob's talent in composition was revealed when he and Mason Te Huia wrote the winning waiata tira [choral song] 'E Rere Wairere'.

In 1999, Rob joined Te Whanau a Apanui for a short stint and was again, encouraged by his family to join Turanga Wahine, Turanga Tane where he remained for eight years.

After living in Hawaii for a time, Rob and his family returned to New Zealand in 2005, the year Te Whanau a Apanui won the national festival in Palmerston North.

Rob remembers there was a sense of buzz within the group so he decided to re-join Te Whanau a Apanui where he remains today.  

His last stand alongside Te Whanau a Apanui was in 2013 and he is set to stand this year in Wellington.

Despite his haka loyalties remaining with Te Whanau a Apanui, Rob is often approached to write songs for other groups, including fellow hometown group Tauira Mai Tawhiti and Auckland-based Nga Tumanako.

“[Haka] has taught me discipline in terms of being an artist and fully diving into the fibres of your music and not wasting a second in terms of live performance. All my haka mates -Maisey, Troy Kingi and cuzzie Ria - we can go for ages in the studio. It’s funny cos those who aren't used to maintaining a high level of focus, or a high level of stamina, like you do on a kapahaka practise, they fall off the waka really quick. We’ve got energy to burn because of kapahaka.”

In a similar vein, fellow artist  Ria Hall was enamoured with haka during her years at college. For her, haka was about the expression of language, stories and history.

“I remember really vividly in 1996 I had just started at Tauranga Girls College and I was in the Kapahaka. We opened the new whare Aronui, and I just remember loving everything about being surrounded by things Māori. I felt like I had a true sense of belonging. I was singing my own waiata, I was singing about my own histories, it made me hugely proud to be Māori, I fell in love with kapahaka from the age of 12.”

In the late '90s, Ria’s close friend Tumanako Farrell took her under his wing and she recalls him taking her along to the practices of Auckland-based group Te Manu Huia.

Ria stood with Te Manu Huia in 2000 and progressed to Te Waka Huia which for four national campaigns from 2006.

“It taught me how to be fearless. You have to have a fearlessness about you, especially if you are rolling with a group like Te Waka Huia. You can’t turn up and be meek, you’re there to bring your A-game because that’s what they ask of you…They are there to deliver excellence in Māori performing arts ... You get out what you put in.”

Ngamoni Huata talks about her childhood growing up at Te Whakarewarewa village, her book The Rhythm and Life of Poi and what her work involves as a judge of the Poi at Te Matatini.