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by Richard Thorne

Rob Ruha: Matariki With The APO

by Richard Thorne

Rob Ruha: Matariki With The APO

Thursday, 23 June will see the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra (APO) celebrating Matariki by performing with the scintillating musical star that is Rob Ruha in a concert promising a night of uplifting haka soul. But wait, there’s more stars with the Tik Tok-famed rangatahi choir Ka Hao and Ruha’s own incredible band The Witch Doctor. also crowding the Auckland Town Hall stage. NZM welcomed the opportunity to ask Rob Ruha a few questions about the safety of the Great Hall roof on this once-in-a-lifetime night of celebrating our stars. 

How long ago was it that you were asked to do this Matariki concert with the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra?

I have actually been asked to do shows with the APO for a number of years now, but I never felt I was ready or had the content to do justice to a show with them. I thought that if I was to do a show with the APO, how would I want to wield that sound? What would the kaupapa of the collaboration be? What key messages would I want to share and how would I curate the experience and energy of a show with them? Last year after releasing my third album ‘Preservation of Scenery’ among many other works, I felt I finally had those answers and accepted the invitation to collaborate and perform with the APO.

We all came out of initial discussions with a strong idea or kaupapa and that has remained intact. All musical suggestions including approach, arrangements, set list and guests have all been a response to that kaupapa.

It’s not a Rob Ruha concert obviously – has the Matariki theme been easy for you to match with your existing waiata?

It’s never a Rob Ruha concert in my eyes. I am but one part of many moving parts that make a performance experience what it is. It is just easier to put ONE name on the posters for marketing purposes I guess. Hoinō, Matariki is easy for me as a theme or central kaupapa to underpin all ideas and activations in the concert. I live and breathe Matariki as have my ancestors of ancient times and of recent memory before me. I think the concert to celebrate Matariki was a natural fit.

How many of your own waiata will be included?

There are 10 waiata in the sets where I feature and all are compositions of mine, or waiata that I have re-versioned and penned Te Reo lyrics for. I am still buzzing about that – haha!

I am so happy to have 11 of our tuakana from Ka Hao joining me on stage for a number or two. I also have my waiata whanau supporting me vocally on BV’s; that is Pere Wihongi, Kaaterama, Marley Sola and Whenua Patuwai. My band, The Witch Dr., will be there to provide all the ‘Haka Soul’ lift the set will require. On drums is Darren Mathiassen, on bass is Johnny Lawrence, Sam Nakamura is picking up the guitar and Leo Coghini on keys. It’s gonna be a magic night!

How far back into your catalogue have you dipped?

There is a waiata from waaaaay back in there. I wrote it when I was 19 years old and it became a kapa haka hit. I have got a couple in there from my very first album that I think fit the theme of the concert too.

And any new music we haven’t heard before?

Yes. The show is themed ‘Ka pō, Ka ao’ which celebrates the duality of light and darkness. It is split into two sets, one to represent Te Pō (darkness) and the other Te Ao (light). For my people, pō or darkness symbolises the genesis of potential, creativity and innovation; ideas that are free and beginning to take form. In celebration of that, I have selected a few new waiata that have never been heard beyond the walls of my home. One of the waiata is a childhood favourite that I had the recent privilege of adapting in Te Reo. To do it with an orchestra and 15 other voices with me is going to be spine-chilling. I think that is gonna raise the roof!

Are there waiata included that (in your mind) have always been begging for the full orchestral or choral treatment?

Absolutely yes. To have that much storytelling might to sonically wield is so exciting to me and I have definitely capitalised on the opportunity to fully reimagine my waiata inside of that context. The third waiata in the first set is one of those songs for me.

Do you have any orchestral involvement or composition history yourself?

My dear friend Mahuia Bridgman-Cooper is my orchestral translator. I have worked with him since I began releasing music as a solo artist eight years ago. I usually have musical ideas, feelings and sensations I want to evoke in a performance, I share these with Mahuia and he will create. Where I do not have the language or orchestral praxis, I am fortunate to have whānau who do to lean on.

I couldn’t trust anyone more than Mahuia to do the job and to tastefully present his own artistry in the orchestrations for the APO he has so respectfully crafted. He has a magical touch when it comes to creating moments in a piece of music that has been there for the entire eight years I have worked with him as an artist. He’s the man!

Any challenges in there for you to match as vocalist?

I’d be lying if I said there weren’t. The greatest is managing vocal execution and emotion. There are a few emotional numbers in the concert that I have not performed for a long time, and some I have never done live at all. In preparation for the show I have been re-living some of the memories that brought those songs into existence. It has been an emotional roller coaster at times but the more I rehearse in my mind, the easier the jacket fits.

Are there any orchestral instruments that you’ve been surprised to find have a natural affinity to your messaging?

I have used strings lots in my music, and brass too, but not a lot of flutes or chimes or concert percussion. Those elements have illuminated subdued parts of my waiata and have refreshed original intents that were maybe overlooked in the final mix of the digital releases.

The APO marketing talks about the audience dancing – was that aspect high on the agenda of choice, or just a given?

If the audience is feeling it, I hope they also feel that they are at liberty to get up and move! Coming from a deep kapa haka background, music and movement go hand in hand, so I think it is just a given. But I think the audience will respond as they see fit… tapping the foot is still dancing where I come from.

These events involve a huge amount of work for the one night of excitement. And things can go wrong. How high up on your personal achievement bucket list does this opportunity rate?

A heap of work for a moment of excitement with the real threat of everything going wrong explains a Matatini kapa haka campaign to a tee, and I have been going those since I was 15 years old! Like Te Matatini comps, this is an amazing opportunity that I don’t take lightly.

It is an opportunity to make magic in a way that has never been done and will never be done again and I think it is important to acknowledge the sacredness of that moment and absolutely seize it! You can always do a show again with the same people doing the same songs in the same venue, but it will never ever be the same performance, so I live for that moment and pay no mind to the things that could go wrong cos there is a damn good chance it won’t. In saying that, this concert is definitely at the top of the bucket list for me at the moment.

Tickets for the show are available here.