Tararua is an art music quartet based in Wellington, Aotearoa New Zealand. Members are Al Fraser (taonga puoro), Ariana Tikao (taonga puoro & vocals), Ruby Solly (taonga puoro, vocals & cello), and Phil Boniface (double bass & taonga puoro). Nina Lesperance from SOUNZ caught up with Ruby and Al from Tararua art music quartet to talk about their mahi.
Ko Aoraki te mauka
Ko Waitaki te awa
Ko Tākitimu rāua ko Uruao ōku waka
Ko Kāi Tahu rātou ko Waitaha ko Kāti Māmoe ōku iwi
Ko Kāti Huirapa tōku hapū
Ko Waihao tōku marae
Ko Ruby Mae Hinepunui Solly tōku ikoa
Tēnā tātou katoa
Al: Tēnā koutou katoa, he manuwhakatangitangi a ngā taonga pūoro au mō te tira puoro a Tararua. Ko Alistair Fraser ahau.
Congratulations on the release of your single ‘Puaka,’ which celebrates the beginning of the Māori New Year. How did this idea come about?
Ruby: Phil wrote this beautiful string melody and then pad, that had a whole story going with it in his mind about renewal, release, and the cycle of life. Ariana and I work on lyrics together for all the tunes, or if not the lyrics, the kaupapa behind them. We talked about how Phil’s kōrero had themes that matched our ceremonies for Puaka. Then I used some of Ariana’s tipuna kōrero from ‘Tikao Talks’, as well as researching more modern Kāi Tahu traditions that originate within the wider te ao Māori such as whakaaro around Matariki.
You’ve been working towards an album for some time now, which is about to be released, can you tell us about how the album came together?
Al: We first got together for a play in December 2019, just to try it out. We all knew each other individually except Ruby and Phil hadn’t played together until then. The first weekend finished with some solid pieces of music, perhaps even performable, and many strong ideas. And so we got together again and the same thing happened, we ‘clicked’, the wairua was there and we were making beautiful music straight away. We applied to CNZ to compose more and arrange the pieces, which we did throughout 2020 (yes, tricky!). We recorded the pieces in October last year at The Surgery. David Long mixed it for us which gave the recordings a beautiful depth that draws you in, like being in a cave.
Anything you can share about the release gig?
Al: We will be performing at Futuna chapel in Karori on July 24th and this venue is perfect for our music. It was important for all of us to find the right space for the release gig and to consider acoustics, size and location. Futuna chapel already has numerous chamber music performances throughout the year with a strong community supporting the venue. Because of the size and acoustics of this space we will play the release gig without any sound reinforcement and we believe this will support the fundamental acoustic quality of the music.
What was it like to collaborate as a group? [Members are Al Fraser (taonga puoro), Ariana Tikao (taonga puoro & vocals), Ruby Solly (taonga puoro, vocals & cello), and Phil Boniface (double bass & taonga puoro)]
Ruby: It took me a while to act like myself because I have so much respect for everyone in this band, and look up to them so much that I just froze a bit! But it’s a beautiful environment to play in, and everyone gets behind each other with ideas. For me it means I can try out things I wouldn’t usually get to, like the vocalese in Puaka.
Al: There was a lot of spontaneity with the collaboration process and it helps that we all enjoy one another’s company.
You have created such a unique album by bringing together not only taonga puoro but western instruments (such as the cello and double bass). Do you think we will see more collaborations between taonga puoro and western instruments become more popular in the future?
Ruby: A lot of the taonga puoro recordings I listen to involve collaboration with western instruments, which I really love because I feel like I can hear the sounds of both sides of my whakapapa in it. I love how grooves and senses of time and notes from a whole range of different places come into the music of Tararua, and the instruments give each other permission to experiment and move outside their traditional world’s, in a way.
The lyrics within your single, Puaka, talk about the ‘Shining light.’ Do these lyrics reflect Matariki and if so, what aspects of Matariki?
Ruby: Kāi Tahu celebrate Puaka, but with some similar rituals to the North including rising early to watch the rise of the star that heralds the new year, wānanga etc. I wanted this to serve as a sort of mōteatea or oriori to pass down knowledge around Puaka and Kā Kapa and how they herald the new year, as well as to share about our other sky related atua and other traditions around this time.
What do you hope the audience takes away from your waiata?
Ruby: I think taking the time it takes to listen to reflect and put themselves in that tau space that we find during Puaka or Matariki.
How was your debut performance at the Wellington Jazz Festival?
Al: It felt very timely to finally perform and share two of our pieces at the Wellington Jazz Festival at Ruby’s commission perform
ance. We played Tūtūmaiao and Puaka as the encore. We’re really looking forward to performing a full repertoire of our work.
Ruby: It felt like such a special time, place, and occasion to premiere our band to an audience. Especially playing Puaka in the lead up to her rise. Playing a full set of our music at Futuna Chapel is going to be fantastic.
Can you tell the SOUNZ audience what the meaning behind the name ‘Tararua’ is?
Ruby: Tararua acknowledges the two peaks of Aoraki as well the sense of placing yourself on both your own mauka, and another, like much of our band does by living in Wellington but being from down south. Tararua also acknowledges the mauka that surrounded us, and the sense of duality within our landscape.
What should the audience expect from this album, and from your first feature show?
Al: The two singles we’ve released, Puaka and Tūtūmaiao, help the listener get a good take on where we’re heading with Bird Like Men, with these two pieces ‘bookending’ the album in a way. The kaupapa, textures, aural aesthetics move and shift throughout the album. And it gets dark, but I do think we’ve created a balance between the light and the dark. Expect a few surprises.