In this series, we present our new composers. We are proud to introduce Ruby Solly.
Kia ora! I’m Ruby Solly, or you might have seen my name as Ruby Mae Hinepunui Solly which is my full name. Sometimes I use this so that I can share the name of my tūpuna, Hinepunui, with people and find connections. I’m a musician, taonga puoro player, writer, composer, and music therapist from Kai Tahu and Waitaha. Because I work as a cellist and have a jazz background, I’m really lucky to get to play with a whole range of artists. Once I was told that the job of a good string player (and I think of any good musician) is to ‘make the music more of itself’. I’m constantly working towards this as a goal and slowly I’m getting closer to being able to achieve it, if that’s even possible!
I have a few music experiences that really stand out in my mind as pou of my musical identity, and they all seem to connect up over time in a circular way. Kind of like reflections of themselves. When I was a child I lived on Mount Ruapehu, and saw Yo-yo Ma on Sesame Street. I told my parents that’s what I wanted to do when I grew up, and years later when we moved to a city, I got to do just that. I also was very lucky to be introduced to taonga puoro at my primary school, and could play the koauau. Last year I was invited to play taonga puoro with Yo-yo Ma on our whenua in Te Wai Pounamu. It was beautiful to look out over our awa and see my Mum watching things come full circle.
This was the first time I worked with SOUNZ and it was a dream to perform with Ariana, who is an amazing mentor for me, and my friend Lee who is also an amazing Māori musician and composer who I went through music school with. This was a commissioned work using suffrage song lyrics from ‘Woman’s Sphere’ by Ada E. Ferris, a submission to the WCTU page of The Prohibitionist on 21 November 189. But I admit, I reimagined them a lot to work more with the times. This was a really interesting exercise for me to see how far we’ve come with things like third wave feminism, and how we see all women.
Wormhole is an ‘exquisite corpse’ style piece of work that I was commisioned to do by the Australian Digital Writers Festival. We were all given the prompt of ‘wormhole’ and then four artists in different mediums set to work on a piece that was then all put together for the public at the end, without us having seen each others work. One of my favourite parts about this work is that my friend Sinead Overbye, who is an incredible writer and kaiwhakahaere of works like ‘Te Rito o Te Harakeke’, was one of the other artists. Without speaking to each other we managed to weave together all this themes and ideas about the circular nature of te ao Māori and how we are our ancestors. The main soundscape for this composition came from when my partner and I were the only ones staying in The Royal Hotel in Featherston, and we had freedom of the lobby and hallways. The background sound you hear is various recordings of their antique clocks and wind sounds from the entrance layered up over each other.
Aside from commissions and collaborative work, I’m currently working on a solo project called ‘Pōneke’ that explores the rangi of places in Wellington by improvising and recording within those spaces.
I’m doing a lot of work at the moment with the idea of environment as a player within music, and looking at how wairua and within that histories of a place effect the songs that are improvised there. This really prompted me to learn more about the histories of this place and acknowledge all these different aspects of our history. The project snowballed pretty quickly and I’ll be releasing it with a booklet of art and information about the various places during Matariki this year. I think the best part for me so far was recording work at Karaka bay, next to the trees planted by my ancestors from Kāti Māmoe. Those tracks have a very special feeling to them that I’m excited to share.
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