Marlon Williams is finding comfort in old classics from the Mauriora Entertainers. Photo / Derek Henderson

New Zealand's Favourite Musicians Share Soothing Songs For Troubled Times

What soul-soothing music should we turn to in these troubled times? Artists from around the country recommend their current music pick-me-ups

With the country still semi-locked down in level 3 and feelings of isolation and uncertainty taking their toll, it can be hard to keep spirits up.

For musicians, as well as music lovers and listeners, great music is a tonic. Whether it’s reverting back to old favourites or gravitating towards live records as a substitute for a night out at a gig, here is some distraction for idle ears.

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We’ve gathered New Zealand musicians from around the country to weigh in on the music that’s giving them some comfort and solace right now. Turn these songs — from the intoxicating tones of Billie Holiday to funky Childish Gambino — into a playlist, and turn it up.

The music I’m turning to. . . Nga waiata o te motu! My current favourites are The Maniapoto Voices and the Mauriora Entertainers (both available on Spotify etc.). At times the idea that there’s “nothing new under the sun” can be comforting. Many of these are old songs of yearning; there is a deep sense of loss. It’s nice to feel part of the continuum of history sometimes, forever at the mercy of the human condition.

A song that puts me in a good headspace right now is. . . E Wawata by the Mauriora Entertainers — check it out.

The music I’m turning to. . .  I haven't been listening to that much music, I'm not sure why. Sometimes when things are stressful it's hard to begin. I loved Phoebe Bridgers' new song Garden Song though. I love her lyrics and songwriting, and there is something about her vocal tone and phrasing that just short circuits the whole of my thinking brain and cuts directly into my emotional lizard brain. I wouldn't call it comforting (it makes me feel deeply sad) but it's full distraction, which I appreciate. 

A song that puts me in a good headspace right now is. . . Chelsea Jade's new song Superfan. Chelsea is such an incredible songwriter. Every lyric is a zinger and when I listen to this song I hear another piece of wit so sharp I don't know how she can fit so many in one song without it bursting open. I've known Chelsea since we were 13 and 14, in the same guitar lesson group at school, and I miss her dearly and worry like a parent about her being in the US right now. Hearing the fruits of her labour makes me so proud.

The music I’m turning to. . .  nothing sounds better than a great song at a bad time — I’m finding this to be very true at the moment. I’ve found myself listening to a lot of Billie Holiday, Antony & The Johnsons, Nina Simone. People with voices that conjure entire landscapes along with them. Perhaps that’s what appeals while I’m missing the world outdoors. I would also heartily recommend Emahoy Tsegue-Maryam Guebrou’s otherworldly The Song of the Sea.

I’m becoming increasingly sentimental during this time, and it seems to be taking less and less for a song to bring me close to tears — especially if it makes me think of my friends. My dad is in the UK, and I don’t know when I’ll see him next ... this has opened up a whole host of other songs I should probably avoid.

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A song that puts me in a good headspace right now is. . . the last show I went to before the lockdown began was the Weyes Blood/Aldous show at the Auckland Town Hall — as a result both these artists seem to be shepherding me through this time. The Weyes Blood song Andromeda is almost constantly floating around in the back of my mind. I’m ever so glad to have them with me.

The music I’m turning to. . . all the livestream music that the New Zealand music industry is doing, Anna Coddington, Louis Baker, and Anika Moa has been doing her Songs for Bubbas concerts which are often inappropriately adult-friendly. It’s an awesome way to support our small and fragile industry at this time and it’s a nice intimate way to get to know artists you love.

A song that puts me in a good headspace right now is. . . maybe not one song but my John Lee Hooker record has been a fantastic puzzle and wine accompaniment.

The music I’m turning to . . . Bill Withers, The Supreme Jubilees, Weldon Irvine, Kelly Finnigan, Kansas City Express, Durand Jones & The Indications. I’ve found myself listening to a lot of classic and modern soul records. I feel like it’s finally time for slow music to take a front seat as we settle into these new rhythms of life, and I’m personally totally cool with that. It’s a big reset button for all of us. There’s a sense of space and ease that doesn’t trigger any sense of pressure or anxiety — it’s like a sonic shoulder rub and shield from anything further than my own sphere right now. The music is so confidently at ease with itself that it sets the tone for how my inner algorithms are travelling in these uncertain times. Positive and chill.

A song that puts me in a good headspace right now is. . . The Supreme Jubilees — It’ll All Be Over remains as my comforting and hopeful lockdown anthem. Lyrically literal too! “One of these days, it’ll all be over“ the song sympathises. Open up all the windows, put the kettle on, burn some Nag Champa and let the Jubilees soundtrack your next blue-skied afternoon. I’m currently competing for air space with my neighbour as he blasts back-to-back U2 stadium shows (complete with top of the lungs singing), so we’re all operating at different levels. Be kind and safe out there.

The music I’m turning to . . . Gospel music for comfort and solace. Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Aretha’s Amazing Grace album, Sam Cooke and the Soul Stirrers, the Staples Singers ... all of those songs were written to give hope and lift up your head in the midst of struggle and hardship. I have been listening to Mavis Staples You Are Not Alone (a Grammy award-winning album produced by Jeff Tweedy that is one of my all-time favourites). I’ve had the title song in particular, on repeat. I also grew up singing in a family band and we started out travelling across North America singing gospel music in churches, so, the music is also wrapped up in those memories of childhood and family, which adds to that feeling of comfort.

A song that puts me in a good headspace right now is. . . the song that I find myself singing throughout the day since this all started is the last song that my dad wrote in the hospital before he passed away. It’s one that I recorded, called Don’t Be Afraid. “Don’t be afraid for I am with you/ I’m gonna see you through another day/ and don’t you dare be discouraged/ I’m gonna help you on your way“. Singing his words is like having him here with me, it really gives me peace.

The music I’m turning to. . . P-Funk, the new Childish Gambino album, Jonathan Wilson’s record Gentle Spirit and the recording of our last DJ set at 121 Festival. It was the final day of the festival so we played upbeat disco, house and tribal jams to send people home with a smile on their face. It was the week before lockdown and I think we knew it’d be our last dance for a while. People seem to be sharing more pensive music at the moment (the Jonathan Wilson record ticks that box for me) but personally I’d rather be shaken out of any iso-related downers so mostly I’m listening to joyful music that reminds me of dancing with my friends

A song that puts me in a good headspace right now is. . . Childish Gambino — 19.10. Most American artists have a Prince-inspired moment and this one is as funky as they come.

The music I’m turning to. . .  I’ve found myself seeking new things to listen to, I suppose to keep things exciting and fresh. I was recently introduced to this band Choir Boy by our tour manager Alex — he was playing them through the car stereo on the drive back from DC to New York after the rest of our shows got cancelled. It does feel now like there is an emotional tie that binds their music to this time — it has this kind of gothic 80s melancholy that has soothed and ailed me while out on my daily walks lately. There’s something so nostalgic and familiar to me when listening — they’ve truly been such a well-timed discovery in this strange new era.

A song that puts me in a good headspace right now is. . . Nites Like This by Choir Boy.

The music I’m turning to. . . Kiwi music is giving me all I need right now. Artists like Alayna, Lévyne, Lontalius, Levi Patel and Hahko are all soothing me with chill, beautiful songs while I’m locked inside.

A song that puts me in a good headspace right now is. . . Listen to Tender by Alayna to hear a magical New Zealand voice.

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