Ruby Solly is a taonga pūoro practitioner, writer, musician, and music therapist in Pōneke.
Her first album, ‘Pōneke’, was released on June 5th 2020. ‘Pōneke’ is a project involving nga taonga pūoro and cello, with pūoro recorded in different environments around Wellington in order to play with te taiao within the music, allowing us to examine our relationships with our environment and to explore our hidden histories with our city.
I sat down with Ruby for a chat about creativity, art and everything in between
How long have you lived in Aro Valley?
I moved here when I was 17. And I'm 24 now, so 7 years?
I started off living on Holloway road when I was 17. Then I lived at 1 Brooklyn Rd which is at the intersection of Brooklyn, Mt Cook, Aro Valley and Te Aro boundaries. We were in the house right at the intersection of the 4 suburbs. It was a really strange place to be, living in 4 different communities at once,and kind of not being in any of them at the same time.
We lived there for about two years and then we moved because we just really missed being right in the thick of things in Aro. We ended up in Epuni st, which is similar to Holloway road in that it's got an equally deep history and similar sense of community. I reckon it says a lot about a person, what street they choose to live on - more than their star sign perhaps?
What star sign would Aro street be?
I want to say Pisces but then I was also thinking maybe Libra because it's a pretty balanced, middle of the road type feeling on Aro St. Diplomatic may not be the right word, but that's close enough?
What about Holloway?
Probably Leo. Or like an Aries with an Aquarius moon.
I reckon Virgo, just floating around and getting creative .Epuni street is full of wonderful creative weirdos and it’s great to be a part of that feeling in a place. I think every street has a different flavor that tells you more about the people living there, I love that about Aro.
Stand by for our hot-takes, your horoscope according to the street you live on, haha
You live on Aro street? There will be roadworks in your future.
Predictions aside, tell me more about yourself. You've achieved some really amazing stuff over the years , and somehow you've managed to turn out a full album while living through a pandemic?
I think the secret to my apparent success is that I’ve had lots of things in the works for a really long time. They just somehow came together within a six month period, which is nice really, but it also gives this image that all this work can be done at once.
The album actually took me around two years to do. I was working on it part time while studying and the project evolved further over time as I added more facets to it.
Originally It was a standalone music album, but then I added a piece of writing for each track, along with historical supporting notes and individual artworks. So when lockdown happened I was able to add those finishing touches and pull it all together.
It was a really good project overall because I was able to work with so many other people - Al Fraser did the mixing, Lee Prebble did mastering and tech, my friend Sebastian Lowe did the videos. It was such a fun journey - my initial goal was to do and learn as much as I could about the whole process by doing most of it myself, but realising I needed help from other people was a part of that learning too.
It was a huge learning process for me, and it was so cool to have them adding to the project to make it all come together.
It sounds like it was an awesome learning and self exploration process for you. Now everyone can enjoy and share the special experience of listening to the album and immersing yourself in the history and artwork while standing on the land that it was written in tribute to. It’s a beautifully grounding and connecting artwork.
Yeah, there's almost a greater sense of empathy that’s gained from listening to sounds that you may not have consciously remembered or recognized from that environment.
As well as that, whenever I make a bigger independent project It has to be something that serves me or the people closest to me or behind me first or else there's not much point because you don’t know if there’s going to be any return from it. You don't know how people will respond. So with both the book I've done, and the album, that sentiment of learning or creating for myself and my understanding came first. And funnily enough, those are the things that are actually the most successful out of everything I've done, which says a lot really about this kind of expression.
When you're really authentic people can kind of hear and see that. When you're not? Well, people can see and feel that as well.
Definitely, that's one of the biggest things that I really enjoyed about the album is that it was a very authentic, genuine expression of self, community and worldviews. You call Pōneke “ a love letter to not only our city, but to all those who have lived here, have shaped this place, and have been kaitiaki of all the facets and layered histories of Wellington herself.” which is such a beautiful sentiment.
I'm hoping for the next one (there will be a next one eventually,) to go kind of more micro in-depth with that and just do one place over a course of probably a year. I was thinking about possibly looking more at Waimapihi stream and doing something even more focused, seeing what range of sounds and layers of history and things can be found within that one specific point which I think will be very interesting to see how that compares to the previous album.
I wanted to talk about your beautiful Hine e Hine renditions every night over rahui - I watched it, loved it, and tuned in every damn night because I needed the wholesomeness!
It was such an anchoring thing for me personally. It was a really good moment of stability in an otherwise hectic timeless landscape of days indoors.
Yeah and it was like it for us too. We did 50 nights all up ( we did the first one the night before lock-down officially started since by then everyone was settled and ready for it ). On the first night I texted one person to say “Hey we are going to try this out, let me know if you can hear us” and I looked down the street at about ten to eight and there were already about fifteen people waiting out there as the message had spread around.
It was really cool - I feel as musicians there is pressure to do everything really well and be practiced and perfect, and we kind of lose that feeling of “Oh yeah, let's just get together and play”.
Music is a thing for people to enjoy, to express yourself and to involve people all together . And it kind of became that again for me during lock-down, which I can forget about when I’m doing it more as a job.
Dan and I went to high school together, so we've still got this fun kind of “I Dare you” mentality in our relationship, which was a big influence in how the nights were structured.
Silly stuff like, “I dare you to do a solo sax edition, free jazz style”. I love it.
We also got to do things musically that we don't often do anymore, but we've done in our past. It was really great to be like, “Hey, remember when you used to play cello with metal bands? Why don't we do that tonight?” “Remember when we used to be in a Dixie band together? Lets try a version in that style”
It was good for us to look at the skills we have and almost time travel to different times with the history of music in different traditions.
It was so refreshing. It really did hit the essence of people having fun creatively and supporting each other emotionally. It was awesome. It was community, and I feel like it was just the perfect antidote to the absolute stress and anxiety the lock-down caused.
Yeah, it was an interesting time. I think my favorite one we did was probably the electric cello version with AC/DC shirts on as costuming, it was really fun.
Did you get requests?
Yeah a few for birthdays and the like - I would get random messages from people saying “its so and so's birthday on Thursday can you do something special?” which was really cool.
Lastly, are there any upcoming projects or anything that you want to publicize, signal boost or put out there to the universe?
Well, Pōneke the album is still for sale, if anyone wants to buy it, but it's also free to listen to online, which was really important for me because of accessibility. I want people to be able to listen to and enjoy it, even if they can't buy it.
It's got loads of historical notes from Kaumatua from my iwi who can whakakpapa here from Kāti Mamoe (one of the iwi that now make up Kāi Tāhu Whānui,) as well as other people in my iwi, and historical notes from Aro Valley.
I've also got a book coming out early 2021 called “Tōku Pāpā” with Victoria University Press, which is really exciting! I will have more information coming up on that soon.
Thank you so much for your time Ruby, it was really great to chat and learn about some of the exciting things you've got in the works - I can't wait to see what the future brings!
You can find Rubys debut album Pōneke HERE
Want to discover more of Rubys recent work? Check out the links below!
"The red fleck in her hair" - An essay by Ruby Solly about whakapapa, resistance, and the markers of history that often go unseen
Poetry Shelf Monday Poem: Ruby Solly’s ‘Dedication’
Sweetman Podcast # 220: Ruby Solly
Finding Yourself in the Whakapapa: A Year Reading Kaituhi Māori
Better off Read - Ep 74: Sound Series 2 - Ruby Solly and Chris Tse
Writing - Roxy Coervers
1 - Still from a film by Sebastian Lowe
2 - Roxy Coervers, Paradox Photography
3 - Roxy Coervers, Paradox Photography
4 - Roxy Coervers, Paradox Photography
5 - Still from a film by Sebastian Lowe
6- Roxy Coervers, Paradox Photography