Singer-songwriter Robert Ruha (Te Whānau-ā-Apanui/Ngati Porou) was born on the East Coast into a ‘kapa haka mad’ family.
He's been performing at writing kapa-haka from a young age and calls himself a ‘kapa haka fanatic and musician.’
There was no escaping the stage for Rob – a couple of years ago, he was encouraged by his cousin Ria Hall and fellow Te Whānau-ā-Apanui alumnus Maisey Rika to sing solo. Since then he’s scooped a bunch of awards, including the 2014 APRA Maioha Award, the 2014 VNZMA Best Māori Album and the awards for 2014’s Best Māori Male Solo Artist, Best Māori Composer and Best Song, at the Māori Music Awards.
Rob's also an ambassador for Te Marama Pūoru Waiata Māori - Māori Music Month, with the mission being to inspire and nurture young talent.
Rob joins Kirsten Johnstone to presents a mix tape of his life so far, and to talk about his kapa haka beginnings, his musical heroes, and growing up on the East Coast.
Tekau Rikirangi Gage - ‘Te Aomuhurangi’ (performed by Rob Ruha)
This is Rob’s favourite song of all time. It was written by Te Whānau-ā-Apanui rangatira Tekau Rikirangi Gage, who’s the head tutor of the iwi’s kapa haka group, who are currently the reigning national champs.
Gage wrote the song when one of the old leaders of the group – Te Aomuhurangi Maka Jones, died.
“The first time I heard this song it was magic. I didn’t even believe it as from my own family from Te Whānau-ā-Apanui singing it, I thought it was a beautiful choir.
He was impressed with the ‘amazing sincerity’ that came across: “There were people who had a very close association to Te Maka and there were people, as they were doing the actions and the moments on stage, there were people crying, as they were singing in full lamentation of their dear one.
“It’s a testimony to Rikirangi’s style of composition, which is a style I try to embody, that is – simple lyric, catchy melody, and something that just pulls at you from your bones, to make you listen and make you feel the lyric without tying yourself up too much with the intellectual stuff.”
Te Whānau-ā-Apanui – ‘Kahura’
'Kahura' is about one of the waka of Te Whānau-ā-Apanui and its journey from Hawaiki to Aotearoa: “It talks about the many wind currents that are summoned through some of the incantations that the tohunga – or the expert navigators, would use on the canoes.”
“It talks about the calmness of the sea … Part of the incantations are about the calming of the sea, so that you have a nice safe journey … The rhythm actually is about a nice, real cruisy journey across the ocean, not a strenuous, freaking out kind of situation.”
Bob Marley – ‘So Much Trouble in the World’
“Amongst my friends and my family, Bob Marley was a profit and he spoke words that our profits spoke. I think about people like Te Kooti and people like Tahupotiki Wiremu Ratana, te māreikura – they spoke prophetic words … just like Bob Marley does in his music.
“His music is tantalizing, but it also moves you and stirs you from your core and I think that’s a close synergy to what our haka do, what our mōteatea do – our traditional chants, and what our action songs do in kapa haka."
Rob says, despite being more than 40 years old, the song still has relevance today – after being part of the fundraising efforts for Te Puia Marae, which has been helping house homeless people in South Auckland, one line in the ong took on special significance.
“There’s a part in the song that says, ‘All you gotta do is give a little.’ And it’s such a simple gesture, but it does make all the difference.”
Glen Miller – ‘In the Mood’
“There’s a woman from the East Coast – her name is Tuini Ngawai. The late, great Tuini Ngawai. The leader of Te Hokowhitu a Tū kapa haka team, and she wrote some of Māoridom’s most prolific songs, and one was in the tune of ‘In the Mood’.
“She would take horn lines and the phrasing and how you sing Māori words, you had to sound like the trumpet. Or sometimes she’d take a bass line, then you’d have to give the same kind of resonance in your vocal approach. So for me… She’s a goddess to me, in terms of music, in terms of Māori composition.”
Te Mokai – ‘He Tohu Aroha’
“This song was my youngest memory of finding Māori music superheroes. Te Mokai was a band from the East Coast – my uncle was a part of Te Mokai.”
They were also the 1987 Tele Quest winners: “And this was the song … and not only did I hear it all the time on radio Ngati Porou … but you would hear it at parties, at funerals, at weddings, anywhere on the marae, anywhere at social gatherings you would hear this song.”
“It brings back warm fuzzy memories for me.”
Maisey Rika – ‘Tangaroa Whakamautai’
Rob performed with Maisey Rika in Tahiti where the whole crowd was singing along to her song ‘Tangaroa Whakamautai’.
“In this country we have a lot of debate around language … if you sing in te reo, it’s only for a te reo-speaking audience.
“I’ve performed with Maisey in Scotland, Tahiti, Guam, and in all of those countries there are always people singing along, and they don’t speak Māori, and they’re not Māori – especially the people we were singing to in Scotland!
“They laugh on cue, they cry on cue, they are contemplative on cue, but they don’t know anything about the language.
“And that is an example of the whole thing around, ‘good music is good music, regardless’ … and in Tahiti everyone, everyone was singing ‘Tangaroa Whakamautai’, and it was just an awesome reinforcement of that whakaaro."
Adam Whauwhau – ‘Ka Tuku Whakamoemiti’
“Growing up in my late teen years, coming out of school, Adam Whauwhau – for my generation, was the Māori Michael Jackson.
“His songs – completely in te reo Māori, were the hottest thing since hot sliced rewena bread with heaps of butter and am on the top, with a cuppa tea.
“He was just the man. I kid you not – at every shed party, at every beach feast … first thing to play – Adam Whauwhau.”
“He inspired my generation to do this mahi.
“On my album Pūmau, I was lucky enough to have him sing with me on one of my tracks called ‘Iti’, and that was a huge buzz for me, so much so that as he was singing his part and it was my turn to sing my part, I completely missed my cue, ‘cause I was going, ‘Oh my god this is Adam Whauwhau! And he’s singing on my track!”
“So yeah, Adam Whauwhau is the man.”
TEEKS (Te Karehana Gardiner-Toi) – ‘If Only’
“I think [TEEKS] is the next best thing. I met him at Pao Pao Pao, which was established by the late Dr. Hirini Melbourne. It’s a mentorship programme for those rangatahi Māori that are interested in doing [music] as a full time career.
“He is definitely ready. He has an amazing, amazing voice, the kinda makes singers like me just want to stop… Just like never do it ever again!
“And on to of that he’s just an amazing songwriter. When this track drops it’s gonna go viral I know it.”
“He is the future or Māori music. Him, and there’s a whole raft of other ranagatahi … who are the reason why we do what we do. To … stabilize the ground, so that when those young ones step in, and it’s their time, they will be a lot more powerful in their stance on this pathway.”
Artist: Rob Ruha
Song: Te Aomuhurangi
Composer: Rikirangi Gage
Album: RNZ Recording
Artist: Te Whānau-ā-Apanui
Album: Live at WOMAD 2016
Label: Unreleased RNZ Recording
Artist: Bob Marley
Song: So Much Trouble In The World
Artist: Glen Miller
Song: In The Mood
Album: The Essential Glen Miller
Artist: Te Mokai
Song: He Tohu Aroha
Composer: W Nia Nia
Album: The Maori Music Collection
Artist: Maisey Rika
Song: Tangaroa Whakamautai
Artist: Adam Whauwhau
Song: Ka Tuku Whakamoemiti
Album: He Hua O Roto
Artist: Te Karehana Gardiner-Toi
Song: If Only