Rules Of Engagement draws on the themes of not only love and war, but also revolution and change.
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 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 from.
Sonically, the album moves effortlessly from hip-hop beats to lush soundscapes and soulful crooning. Featuring performances and production from Tiki Taane, Kings, Laughton Kora, Che-Fu and Electric Wire Hustle, Hall’s incredibly powerful voice shines throughout.
The album opens with ‘In These Trenches’, and poet Te Kahupakea Rolleston’s call to arms – “Will you rise?” The second track ‘Te Kawa o Te Riri’ signals what is to come – commanding vocals and lyrics from Hall sitting perfectly alongside driving production, and delivered entirely in Te Reo Māori. In an album full of powerful moments, Hall’s use of Te Reo provides continued highlights. “There is so much power in the language, and everything it stands for. It’s presence in this album is like the air I breathe”, says Hall.
Rules Of Engagement is a personal journey not only through Hall’s own life and experiences, but also through the shared experiences of her whānau. ‘Barely Know’ touches on the uncertainties of past relationships, and places them in a familiar context to the listener. 'Te Ahi Kai Pō' – translated to “the fire burning away the darkness” – is inspired by the slaughter of many Māori at The Battle of Te Ranga, and trying to find resolve through times of despair. Archival recordings from 1968 of Hall’s great-uncle, Turirangi Te Kani, feature on the tracks ‘50,000 Acres’, ‘The Battle’ and ‘Te Ranga’, adding another personal level to the album.
Rules Of Engagement is a work of art which challenges the status quo, at times asking the hard questions, not in confrontation, but rather from an honest and deeply raw perspective. From the aftermath of war through colonisation to her own internal battles, it is an open expression, speaking to society on numerous levels.
Staunch and resolute!
Made with funding from NZ On Air & Te Māngai Pāho
Archival interview audio of Turirangi Te Kani courtesy of RNZ and Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision
Photographs used with permission thanks to the Alexander Turnbull Library