Ria Hall has released her debut album, Rules Of Engagement. Drawing on the themes of not only love and war, but also revolution and change, the album has been nearly five years in the making, and is an epic collision of traditional ways of thinking and modern musicianship.

Initially conceived in Wellington and completed in Hall’s ancestral home of Tauranga, the album’s inspiration and concept stem from the New Zealand Wars of the 1800’s, specifically 1864’s Battle of Gate Pā (Pukehinahina). Known as one of the most important battles of the New Zealand Wars, the Battle of Gate Pā saw hugely outnumbered Māori defenders managing to hold off an experienced British force, and secure a key Māori victory.

The key inspiration behind the concept comes from a letter written from Henare Taratoa to Sir George Grey, outlining the manner in which the Battle of Gate Pā should ensue, and how both parties should conduct themselves during war. This code of conduct was known as the Rules of Engagement and is where this project takes its name. Ria Hall did a quick Q&A with Hi Fi Way: The Pop Chronicles about the album.

Can you believe how busy it has been with the release of Rules Of Engagement?
I anticipated things to be busy, so I mentally prepared myself for it. I’m just happy the album is out! So stoked!

Is a concept album a lot harder to pull together than a collection of songs you have written?
I don’t think so. I found the process a lot easier to write too, as long as the purpose of the work is clear.

How enriching a process was it connecting with your cultural background through music?
Māori culture is part and parcel of who I am. It’s in my DNA. Naturally I’m going to present it in my music in a strong and compelling manner.

Did you learn a lot of new things about yourself and your family that you didn’t know before?
I was reinvigorated by the history and stories of my people as a result of creating this work. Things were reaffirmed for me on many levels!

Do you hope the listener learns something too about you and the story you’re telling?
I would like to hope that people come away with a sense of strength, resilience and hope. It’s through understanding that we can empathise and find compassion for one another.

How was it working with all those special guests?
Amazing! I cannot speak highly enough of everyone that collaborated on my album. Generous, selfless and giving. I appreciate them all so much.

How would you describe your music sonically?
A cultural collision of soulful soundscapes designed to move the mind, body and spirit.

What sorts of music did you listen to growing up and who had the biggest influence on your style?
My household was very eclectic. Being the youngest in my family I absorbed everything my parents and older sisters played. From reggae, soul and RnB to country, rock and hip hop. I’m not really genre specific musically, but I’m a hybrid of all the above. My family are biggest influence for sure!

Being super talented, is your preference music, or do you still enjoy stage and TV?
I love anything that allows me to have creative freedom!

Any plans to tour Australia soon?
I would love to do an extensive tour of Australia in the very near future. I have so much love for Aussie!!

Interview by Rob Lyon