Review by John Thornley RIA HALL Manawera Wēra, LOOP Recordings 2020
This new recording which translates as Angry chants opens with the compulsive back beat of reggae keyboard, guitars and horns, and collective vocals chanting
Know your history, straight out of Bob Marley roots.
But soloist lead vocalist Ria Hall is more sorrowful and pleading than looking for a fight.
The overall prayerful theme is in her final song Hope.
This recording is a beautifully orchestrated symphony of soul, reggae and Pacifika musicking.
Joining Hall is multi-instrumentalist Laughton Kora and producer, Trinity Roots' Warren Maxwell leading horns, with Lee Prebble mixing.
They are just three from an ensemble of top instrumentalists and choral voices.
The CD packaging features artwork by Robyn Kahukiwa, an iconic image of mother and child beneath the ancestral pou figure, backed by rolling waves and heart imagery in gorgeous black, white and red colours – symbolising in the words of reviewer Jacquie Walter; 'concepts explored are elemental and rooted in female power'.
Apart from the Māori title and a short mihi in te reo, all lyrics printed on the sleeve notes are in English.
The words are important. I'll comment on all seven songs, in the order appearing on the CD.
Track 1, History, grounded from living on the soil of Aotearoa in a punchy image.
My feet are fashioned from the Earth/Crafted of mud and stone and dirt/I wear our stories on my skin/I swear it's where we must begin.
Track 2, Cause and Effect. Our lives are not predetermined by a divine destiny but a very human existence where we make choices.
You give me nothing for something, When all your somethings mean nothing/She is a Queen upon a throne/ I am a mountain set in stone.
Track 3, Owner, no one owns the land, sea or water.
The planet provides for free…We gonna judge you by your qualities.
Track 4, Flow, a haunting ballad of sensual mysticism, in extended lines of warm mellifluous singing.
Let your waters flow over me/In the moonlight your tide moves with me.
Track 5, Chant. More than once in the songs, there is a frustration towards those unable to face a reality that all of us need deep change in Aotearoa.
You just live and hope but your promised land has been swallowed by the sea/And it occurs to me no more shall we sit idle or/Lay down our guns if Babylon is gonna fall…Chant for hope/Chant for faith.
Track 6, Walk, and Track7, Hope, speak of personal and collective betrayals.
The former has focus on an individual's call to autonomy.
I should have listened to myself/And now I'd rather walk alone.
The latter holds to hope for a better future together.
Oh, I hope you know I'm still in love/Oh I hope some day you're gonna find a way/Through the stormy weather/I know things can only get better.