How can I help people tell their stories if I can't tell my own? Writer and Musician Ruby Solly talks about Identity, Family, Music Therapy and Poetry, and how Te Ao Māori is the Pathway between them all.
By Tayi Tibble
Ruby Solly is a Ngai Tahu writer and musician. She has played with artists such as The Troubles, Whirimako Black, Ariana Tikao, and is playing on the upcoming ‘Trinity Roots’ tour as a cellist. She was the first cellist to complete a degree in jazz performance at the New Zealand School of Music. Ruby also works with poetry and has been published in journals such as Landfall, Poetry NZ, Starling and Minarets. She is slowly working on her first book of poetry, which explores how culture and Māori identities are nourished and explored through relationships, particularly focusing on the relationships between fathers and children. Ruby is currently completing a thesis on using taonga puoro in music therapy within mental health; the first significant piece of literature to explore the use of indigenous instruments within music therapy. Ruby lives and works as a music therapist, teacher, writer, musician and composer in the heart of Aro Valley.
I met Ruby Solly at last years Regional Maori Writers Hui at Hongoeka Marae. We were instant friends bonding over poetry, our masters degrees and using writing in order to navigate our identities as Māori .
Ruby is an incredible poet. Her poetry is utterly deft and agile. Warm and heartbreaking. We caught up to discuss Ruby's journey with both her writing and her identity; how both inform each other, how both are inseparable.
"I’ve had an interesting relationship with writing over the past few years as in this time I’ve been completing a masters in music therapy, and as a therapist 90% of my day to day life has become confidential," Ruby says. "Initially I felt stunted by this, but then I realised that I just needed to write from what I had internally, rather than externally. As I looked back through the writing I had been doing through the last seven years or so, I noticed themes of whakapapa, family, and identity popping up again and again; with this kind of dark thread weaving through it all. It kind of felt like the writing had been figuring me out, rather than the other way around."
How to meet your future husband in his natural habitat
Ruby's father is a significant presence in many of her poems. She attempts to describe him; "My father is Māori, Ngai Tahu, but like many we are quite disconnected from our whenua and our people. But as I’ve walked further and further into te ao Māori, I’ve realised more and more than our worldview is firmly placed within this world and that a te ao Māori worldview is the biggest gift I have had passed down to me through my whakapapa. I find it difficult to describe my family, they aren’t really people who you can describe in a paragraph, and at this point I think I couldn’t even describe them in one whole book! But when I do try to describe my Dad, I’ll tell people that he’s a bit ‘spooky’.
"I remember as a kid him having all these pet doves, and one time he called me to him and then opened up his arms and about ten of them landed on him… and he just stood there, eyes closed, facing the sun, covered in these doves. Or I have memories of being in Whakapapa village with him as a toddler, and him putting me on his back and running through the tundra. I just remember feeling like he was a giant who could leap over streams in a single bound, dwarfing the mountains even. That’s the kind of man my Dad is. The kind of man who dwarfs mountains, well to a toddler anyway."
Ruby is currently working on the manuscript for her first book. Ruby says she is choosing to take her time with this because it "deserves the time and the focus." Ruby is also one of six young writers chosen throughout the country to receive a Starling Micro Writers residency which will run during Wellingtons's LitCrawl festival from November 8th to the 11th. She will be placed in Bowen Gallery and will be working on a suite of poems entitled Toku Pāpā, concerning how a Māori identity is explored and nourished through family connections and the tensions and releases that this provides. Ruby says she is really looking forward to this residency, so she can "fill some of the gaps in the work."
"It’s funny how it’s all worked out as it’s starting to take shape as a more complete piece. I’ll have written something and I’ll describe it to someone in my family and then they’ll tell me more, and that will be the next piece…. or a missing piece. I’ve got a real interest in narrative therapy and within my research this year I’ve found that within my work as a te ao Māori music therapist, pakiwaitara is crucial for engagement and success in therapy. I think learning to tell my own stories, and the stories of those that have made me who I am is a part not only of becoming a better writer, but of becoming a better therapist. Because how can I help people to tell their stories if I can’t tell my own?"
How can I help people to tell their stories if I can't tell my own?
On the connections between her multiple disciplines, Ruby says,
"I feel like I’m really privileged to be at a point in my life where all the things that I’m interested in, or that I’m working to be good at, are starting to connect and match up, and I think that te ao Māori is really the pathway between all those things. I can be working with a client in taonga puoro based music therapy, and we’ll be discussing an element of their whakapapa and how that effects them now and matching it with an instrument with a similar kōrero, and I’ll be thinking about how to help them tell their story, and I’ll be sharing elements of mine to help build up that trust and strengthen that connection. I feel that is crucial for us to be more open and honest when we’re working like this, and I don’t think there is anything more honest and open than being a writer."
ABOUT THIS SPACE
Toi Māori Aotearoa's blog is purposed to keep you up to date with the latest happenings going on both here at Toi, and across the Māori arts scene in Aotearoa, and abroad.