Playing For Change

Playing For Change co-founder Mark Johnson’s energy is so upbeat it practically slaps me in the face when we met via Skype in late July. With a fitted military cap pulled down over his head and an unbuttoned shirt hanging over a t-shirt, he sits alert on a couch in his Venice home. Essentially a human-shaped beaming smile, he’s an individual who not only dreams big, but has an acute awareness of his sense of connection to, and place within, the world around us. 

A Grammy Award-winning music producer/sound engineer and award-winning film engineer, since 2005 Mark has travelled the world recording and filming musicians to create what he calls Songs Around The World. Essentially sonic and visual collages of musicians from different countries and backgrounds performing the same song, they’re telling reminders of the power of music to break barriers and close the distances. Kicking off with a rendition of ‘Stand By Me’ led by street musician Roger Ridley, they took Roger’s casual comment to Mark, ‘I’m in the Joy business, I come out to be with the people,’ as their starting mantra and never looked back. 

The success of Songs Around The World allowed Mark and his collaborators to unite many of the musicians they met and form The Playing For Change Band. Together, they’ve toured the world, raising money for the Playing For Change Foundation, a non-profit organisation committed to building music and art schools for children around the world. Having visited over 50 countries and earning the trust of communities across the globe, Mark and Playing For Change believe sharing the world through the lens of music and art is crucial to fighting against the propaganda and fear that keeps us divided and robs us of living our lives.

There is a school of thought that says you are only as great as you can help other people become. How important is this to you? Ultimately, I believe that giving is getting. We’ve veered away from this and designed our whole being around money. I believe in something better, or bigger than that. If I can help a child get a guitar and watch him play it, it gives me something far greater than anything I could buy. I’ve seen the happiest people with nothing and the best musicians with nothing. It’s not really about what you have in life; it must be what you do with it.

Could you walk us through how this project has changed your understanding of music as a universal language? In the beginning with the Songs Around The World videos, it was about showing every type of person in them, so everyone can see someone they relate to relating to other people in a great way. You could watch those videos and be done with racism if you wanted to be. We learned about music for joy. We learned how Native Americans use music to connect to their ancestors, nature, and build community. We learned about the role of music in forgiveness in South Africa. We learned about music as a survival tool and a way to bring people together. Humans invented music, and all of these different reasons are part of who we are as people.

I guess during these experiences you developed a sense of connection with the places you visited and wanted to do more for them, hence opening the schools? Absolutely. The way to make change is inside communities. People will work with other people they would normally never work with if it is for the good of their children. We wanted to incorporate music education with something that would put the next generation ahead. In 2007 we assembled a bunch of musicians from our videos to play a benefit concert to build our first school in South Africa. Musicians from nine different countries came together on the same stage. Since then The Playing For Change Band has played 300 concerts to raise money for schools. We just opened our thirteenth school.

Playing For Change makes sense on paper, but when I think about it, it must take some amazing acts of kindness and giving to make it happen? There have been a lot of magic make-or-break moments. One of our mentors and partners is a 94-year-old man named Norman Leer. He invented sitcom televisions in the 1950s. It was basically the first use of media for social commentary. You know how you’re gonna get rid of racism? You make people watch a fat version of themselves be racist on TV. They laugh at it, and you might suddenly realise some of it is them. By laughing about it, they get through it and move forward. Norman brought us all these amazing opportunities and really elevated the consciousness of the project. We had some top 10 success with our songs at Billboard and Starbucks got behind us, so we were able to give all the featured musicians royalties. That changed communities and built trust. Then Keith Richards contacted us and wanted to work with us; that helped keep things going. 

Chris Blackwell is a partner with us as well. He founded Island Records and worked with Bob Marley. We met him when we were clearing our Songs Around The World of ‘One Love’. He said, ‘This idea of changing the world, you’ve got to keep it in perspective. Why don’t you just go out there and tip the scale a bit? Make the good better and the bad less bad and know you’ve done a lot.’ In a similar way, one of my heroes is Keb' Mo'. He said, ‘The important thing in life is to get up in the morning and let the inspiration take care of itself.’ You’ll never really know if what you’re doing is making change, but if you believe, your impact will keep rippling outward. This is the kind of thing we need to be doing to combat the giant wall of fear and propaganda. 

Words by Martyn Pepperyll

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Why music? Well, why not music? Who doesn’t listen to music. Who has never been moved by music. Who has never exclaimed, ‘Oh, I love this song!’ Who has never been inspired by the prowess of a good guitarist playing live. Who has never had their mood completely turned on its head by music?

Music means so much to people; crossing cultures, countries and continents to bring us together in a shared love. Music provides and provokes thoughts, courage, inspiration, as well as a common language we can all speak, paving the way for global social movements. 

Recognising this power, we decided to start an online conversation a few months back, because we wanted to know more. Why is music so important, and how can we use it to promote social change and bring more awareness to the charitable sector here in New Zealand. 

Keeping it short and sweet we only asked two questions, kicking off with a question about why music inspires. And not too surprisingly, a number of people told us about the exhilaration, joy and transformative experiences they have with live music.

‘For me, there is nothing better than live music. I live for it. Gigs where it seems as though the crowd are entranced set my soul on fire! If I were religious, live music would be my church.’ - Annie

‘Few moments in life cause the hairs to stand up on the back of your neck, but something that does it regularly for me is music. Whether it’s hearing my favourite songs for the thousandth time, seeing an amazing live performance, or discovering a new band or movement.’ - Nic

‘I love hip hop music and when my sister started performing I knew she had something special. Her piano rap means the most. I get to see a part of her, through her words and rhythm, that would be trapped if it weren’t for music.’ - Hannah

The performative aspect came through loud and clear too, for those taking to the stage or doing their thing in-studio.

‘As a musician, being able to play an instrument with uninhibited creativity is the most liberating and rewarding experience I can think of.’ - Grant Lister

‘I make music for one simple reason: I care about people and the planet. You can’t see it, touch it, taste it or smell it, but molecules of air vibrating against eardrums can move hearts the world over, build bridges where there were once divides and break down the walls that separate us from each other and our minds from our bodies and souls.’ - Michael Franti

Michael Franti talks about music and a connection that is quite spiritual, creating something intangible that often has strength beyond what we can hold in our hands. Many people also identified with this spiritual, and somewhat mystical, facet of inspiration. 

‘Little moments of magic are inspired by music; being a long way from home and hearing a quintessentially Kiwi tune – pure joy at the time. In these moments I feel simultaneously at peace with myself (a lovely thing because I overthink and worry by nature) and beautifully part of the world and universe around us.’ - Liz

‘It calms me, it energises me, sometimes it makes me see things from a different perspective. Sometimes music seems to speak to me on an unconscious level making me feel things I can’t explain.’ - Mica

This mysticism and otherworldliness is part of something much bigger, that without a doubt music inspires, creates, encourages, displays and provokes emotion. And this emotive power that music instills and imparts, it delves deeply into the hearts and minds of many of us. 

‘Music moves me! Hearing songs my dad sang to me as a child, or that were popular at milestones of my life, transport me and fill me with emotion. There are a few songs that bring tears to my eyes in the first few bars.’ - Angie

‘When I hear a song that feels like it has been written about me and my feelings but has really been written by someone else about themselves and their own feelings, it feels like magic. And it feels like someone saying, “I understand”, without having to actually say something so patronising as that.’ - Anna

‘I experienced great loss of my partner and unborn child. This weight was almost unbearable to continue on with except when I was playing music for those few minutes, really uniting myself with that moment consciously and with no holds barred.’ - Devon Welch

‘Music got me through so many tough times. Listening to and writing music helps me express my feelings, and helps me express society’s feelings.’ - Alice

The second question we asked was about generosity – how does music already tie in with generosity and how can it spark more generosity in this world. 

‘There are many initiatives that facilitate the fan’s support of the musician. For example, PledgeMe, Kickstarter, Bandcamp. I am amazed at the generosity I have seen through such platforms. And this generosity ultimately leads to more music being made, so its effect on music is very healthy.’ - Thomas Oliver

‘Musicians and bands are increasingly using profile/status to highlight issues and movements that are important to them. Some that may otherwise not get any exposure.’ - Nic

Emotion, it seems, is key here too, giving music and musicians the ability to tap into people’s desire to do good.

‘It has the power of emotion as its foundation. It can instantly shortcut people to their rawest feelings and become immediately empathetic.’ - Devin Abrams

‘Music is an intangible entity that can be transferred so easily in this technological age. It’s such an “easy” thing to give someone and empower them.’ - Hiren

That music brings people together and connects us is another essential that people noted; breaking down barriers, creating a shared language and uniting people for a common cause.

‘The simple fact that it doesn’t ask anything from its listeners makes it compelling to listen to, and all sorts of important messages can be conveyed without having to break down walls first.’ - Dee

‘I believe that music is a logical first step on the journey to generosity. It creates togetherness, which in turn becomes community, and when we get to know our communities, we are more willing to support them.’ - Emily

‘Music has the ability to bring people together like no other medium. When you can harness this energy with good faith then extremely powerful things can be achieved and activated.’ - Tiki Taane

‘The sharing of music is like a collective conscience, whereby individuals can be brought together by a similar appreciation for the music. This grows connections, spreads understanding and love, and in general has a positive impact on us. “Pay it forward” can quite literally start with a song.’ - Kate

So again, why music? From the responses above – and the multitude we received but couldn’t squeeze into these pages – it’s pretty clear that music has almighty, superhuman powers. Making people feel feelings, bringing people together, providing inspiration and innovation, creating movement and movements that collectively provide opportunities for us to be better human beings. 

‘Music is power. It has the power to work human minds. It has the power to change one’s mood. It has the power to change someone’s life.’ - Iva Lamkum

As far as bringing more awareness to the charitable work happening in our fair country, it’s pretty obvious that working with musicians and the power of music is a no-brainer. But another equally important thing to remember is that every little act of generosity carries meaning. As there are layers of sound in any song, there are also layers of generosity – and each layer is necessary to mix and master the final track. So if you’re not ready to be lead singer yet, that’s okay. Don’t underestimate the power of backing vocals ... we all know every track needs beats, and even the little triangle ting-a-lings are important. You can always be involved and you will be making a difference with whatever you have to give.

‘The act of creating music is itself inherently generous – every musician is open and generous by sharing their emotions with others. When this generosity is joined with something external (like playing for charity) that generosity becomes contagious.’ - Nikki

Illustrations by Natasha Vermeulen. Words by Ren Kirk & friends

Tell us about the most generous musicians in your world on Twitter @OnePercentNZ or via Facebook @onepercentcollective

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Thomas Oliver & Louis Baker

- On the little things that make music more magical -

We caught up with musicians Thomas Oliver and Louis Baker, to talk about the elevating properties of music, the support of loved ones, the magic of coffee, and making a difference.

The morning ritual… I had a bit of a ritual for a while which was that I’d get up and make coffee, sit in a chair and listen to a whole album. It grounded me for the day, but it would also kind of elevate me and take me away from the normal day. Especially in conjunction with coffee! The coffee would hit me, and I would feel such a sense of elevation when the music was good. So much so that often I would only get halfway through an album, and be so inspired that I would stop the album and go and write or play or record or create. - TO

Words of appreciation… [Music] is a difficult path. It has its drawbacks and perplexing moments. Times that test your passion or your commitment. You have to stay on top, and stay dedicated to the craft for the right reasons. But all the little things that happen along the way help you do that. You might get a message from a fan that just says, ‘Hey, I love what you’re doing.’ Or, ‘Hey, your music has been getting me through tough times.’ People don’t always realise just how much impact that has. Often I think it comes at just the right time. - TO

Support crew… My family are endlessly supportive. I don’t think I’d be doing what I’m doing now, if it hadn’t been for my mum and dad giving me that feeling of support when I was younger. Also, Cushla [Aston, manager to both Louis and Thomas], she is an amazing person – so supportive and so honest. Sometimes you need honesty. You need that other pair of eyes or that other knowledge. It’s the real shit. It’s those people in your life that are prepared to take the hard knocks with you, but also not sugarcoat anything. It’s your friends, your musical peers, and the people around you. - LB

Making a difference to someone… There was an interpretive dance that was posted online and sent to me by someone from the States. She had just lost her mum and her brother in quite close succession. She was dancing to one of my songs, ‘Back On My Feet’, and she sent me a message saying how the song had helped her get through this time of adversity. I was so overwhelmed. It was beautiful that she had been affected in a positive way by it, because that is what I had always envisioned for that song, that idea of getting back on your feet and rising above whatever pain or suffering you’re going through. - LB

A gesture of gratitude… When I started putting up YouTube videos of myself playing the Weissenborn guitar, a guy called Cam got in touch from Australia to say he loved what I was doing. He asked me for some advice on strings and tuning and all sorts, because he was a player himself. We got chatting and he became a friend. He came over to New Zealand a couple of times to come to my gigs. Recently, he got in touch to say that he wanted to express his gratitude for the way that I had given him my time. He commissioned [Wellington guitar-maker] Tony Francis to make me a teardrop Weissenborn. This was someone who started as a fan and became a friend, and then made this great act of generosity, which still blows my mind to think about. - TO

Interview by Pat Shepherd. Edited by Esther McLaren

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Natasha Vermeulen

We have a lot of amazing individuals who give their time and talents to the Collective, and one of these generous souls is Natasha Vermeulen. A graphic designer, illustrator and photographer, Natasha’s unique artwork can be found on t-shirts, Melbourne Cup invitations, the streets of Auckland and now on the cover of the very publication you are holding in your hands. 

I love drawing people and cartoons, and letting the illustration style evolve naturally. I always sketch first – basic pencil on paper – and then switch to digital painting to play with colour palettes and work up the refined forms. Illustrating the cover art was amazing because I wasn’t restricted in what I could produce. I envisioned a pattern of musicians or music themed elements wrapping around the cover, but had the freedom to move away or come back to this concept whenever I wanted. While creating the pattern layout, the musicians seemed to be floating in space, which led to the stars/heavenly bodies/cosmic artists vibes. 

For conceptual sketching tuning out in a noisy café helps me to focus or just listening to music with my headphones in. Music is a source of inspiration for visual art. And vice versa. For this project it was a no-brainer to listen to whichever artist I was drawing at the time. Man, New Zealand has some awesome musicians. Instagram is also a great source of inspiration for me, personally, right now. Being given permission to consume what people choose to record, their everyday moments, is a real treasure. Thomas Oliver’s dog makes an appearance on the cover for this very reason! 

I’ve been lucky enough to work with people and agencies that all give so much of their time and talent to keep the sense of community alive. One Percent Collective is an example of this, which is why I was so keen to be involved in this issue – I couldn’t resist putting my hand up for the cover, especially when I found out it was about music.  

The way your heart can fill or break within one song says it all. As a person who prefers imagery to writing to express myself, music can conjure those emotions I might not be able to put into words. Food for the soul is more than apt. The strongest spiritual experience I have is when I’m listening to music. 

Photography by Scott Cricket. Words by Jd Nodder

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Music as therapy: Monty Clark

Music is storytelling, passion, an apology, it is uplifting and heart-breaking and life-changing. Music is cathartic and therapeutic to people all around the world – regardless of race, gender, class or capability. We spoke to two people, involved with our partner charities, who understand this better than some.

Music courses through Monty Clark’s veins, instrumentally and vocally. Embroiled in the foster care system from a young age, Monty was raised in Pukekohe by his grandparents until he was a teenager. Surrounded by music Monty picked up a myriad of waiata from his grandmother, who only spoke Māori, and got his percussion ability from his mute grandfather (a fact that he chuckles over when telling us).  

Monty’s first live performance was at the age of 16 and now he performs every week, teaching the ukulele to the homeless at DCM and busking on the streets of Wellington – although not so often in winter, and who can blame him? 

Monty first got involved with DCM about three-and-a-half years ago when they helped him find accommodation. But Monty doesn’t classify himself as homeless – instead he is transient, never staying put in one place for too long – a musical nomad. He is lucky to come from a big extended family so it was only on rare occasions he would have nowhere to stay. He’s lived in Auckland, Christchurch, Wellington, Bluff, Invercargill, Dunedin, Timaru, Blenheim and Pahiatua – to name a few! 

Now he has taken his previous experience with music and applied it at DCM. The therapy of music was something that Monty experienced early. It gave him confidence when he had none. It boosted the little self-esteem that he had. And this is something that he is trying to instil in the groups he runs at DCM. He looks back on his time with his grandparents and is grateful for the life they gave him. The knowledge of traditional music and embracing where you come from is not a fact that Monty takes lightly. He understands the importance of feeling like you belong, like you are part of something bigger than you. Seeing a lot of Māori and Pacific Island people coming through DCM, Monty tries to incorporate traditional songs into their lessons, and is always keen to see other ethnicities coming in and sharing their knowledge with the group. 

For the people coming to Monty’s classes their experience is threefold. One, they get to learn from someone who understands them, who understands the lives they lead – there is no judgement or harsh critique. Two, their confidence levels grow as they become more adept at their music of choice, just as Monty’s has. Three, some of them become performers! That’s right, when they are ready Monty takes members from his group out to busk with him to help them develop – and to earn a bit of money. For Monty this is one of his favourite parts: watching those that he has helped establish themselves with music. 

When we asked Monty what his thoughts of DCM and music therapy were he said, simply, that DCM is the winner. They have helped him turn his talent and love into a tool to pass on to others who need it the most. 

Photography by Pat Shepherd. Words by Jd Nodder

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Music as therapy: Ryan Herbert

Music is storytelling, passion, an apology, it is uplifting and heart-breaking and life-changing. Music is cathartic and therapeutic to people all around the world – regardless of race, gender, class or capability. We spoke to two people, involved with our partner charities, who understand this better than some.

Julie Herbert's grandson Ryan is a 14 (nearly 15) year-old boy whose playlist ranges from Mozart through to Coldplay and, to Julie’s satisfaction, a bit of Neil Diamond. Ryan is your typical pubescent teenage boy; loud, doesn’t always listen in school and loves spending time with his mates. But there is something a little different about Ryan. 

When he was just five months old Ryan was shaken, resulting in a lifelong diagnosis of growth and developmental disabilities. With a vocabulary of around 100 words, the brain age of a two or three year old, speech problems and cortical blindness, a day in the life of Ryan Herbert can be challenging. 

Ever since taking on Ryan’s care at eight months old, Julie and her family have gone through a huge adjustment. Some days are simple: Ryan’s grandfather will drop Ryan at his school, Albany Junior High, and pick him up at 1:30 pm – he can’t really handle being there any longer than that before he gets tired and his brain and vision shut down completely. And others are not so simple: one afternoon Julie spent 95 minutes in the carpark at Greenlane Clinical Centre trying to coax Ryan out of the car for his appointment, but Ryan refused to budge. Every day is different, minute to minute.

As a baby, Ryan had an ear for music. He would perk up when a tune was played and beat his tiny hands or feet in time. The doctors told Julie that this was just a coincidence, a symptom of his condition – nonetheless Julie was convinced that Ryan was aware, that he knew what music was and how it was making him feel. Music runs in the family after all. Julie is a singer and so were both of her parents and Ryan is the most musical of all her grandchildren; a fact that Julie simultaneously rejoices and mourns, because Ryan won’t be able to make a life from his talents. 

One day Julie was in the hospital for Ryan and saw a brochure for Raukatauri Music Therapy Centre and for the past eight years Julie has been taking Ryan to Raukatauri every week. For 40 minutes in the day Ryan is at peace. The things that he struggles with at school – doing as he’s told, joining in with the class – come so easily to Ryan when he is at Raukatauri. 

Music is a huge part of Ryan’s life and it’s a part that he loves. The therapy sessions are always different and Ryan is constantly learning; skills that he takes home and keeps practising. He’ll set up in his music room at the piano or drum kit, sit his Bob the Builder toy down next to him and teach Bob the music that he has learnt at Raukatauri that day. In therapy, Ryan is the student joyfully absorbing, at home he is the therapist passing on his skills to others. It is a cycle of wellbeing that Ryan thrives in.  

Going to Raukatauri has helped Ryan immeasurably. Sure, there are days when the whole family is exhausted because Ryan couldn’t sleep the night before or when Ryan is angry and the best thing to do is stay out of his way. But on the days when music seeps into Ryan’s life there is no substitute for the relief that it brings to the Herbert family. They love music and music loves them.

Photography by RMTC. Words by Jd Nodder

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Music and MĀoridom

- With Ria Hall & Rob Ruha -

Music is a universal language – or so say the Collective. And with this in mind we’d be crazy to overlook the significance of indigenous music and it’s inherent value to a country and its people. Luckily for us, here in Aotearoa, our indigenous music still has a strong presence throughout the country. With kapa haka in schools and the plethora of voices advocating for the resurgence of Māori language and culture, we’re miles ahead of some, but we still have some work to do. We asked two seminal Māori musicians to share with us their thoughts on music and Māoridom – what it means for them and for us as a nation. 

Give us a bit of background on the two of you. Where did you grow up? How do you think this has helped shape who you are today?

Ria Hall: I grew up as the youngest of four girls in beautiful Tauranga Moana, raised by my father. As a result I am very strong in my convictions and who I am. I’m grateful for the ebbs and flows of my upbringing: being raised in my tribal area amongst my hapū and whānau has given me a great sense of strength in my identity, which I believe allows me to move very comfortably in the musical world – mainstream and Māori.

Rob Ruha: Growing up, I was taught that my Māoritanga is a powerful tool and will ensure that I achieve any aspiration I have. I was raised in a small East Coast town called Wharekahika or Hick’s Bay, in a papakāinga with my grandmother, five of my mum’s siblings, their kids and partners for the first part of my life. When I think of those times growing up on ‘The Coast’ I remember warm summers, everyone’s front doors occupied with people waiting to invite you in for a kai, and a marae that was always alive with activities for the community.

And when did you first start singing? What does music really mean to you?

Ria: Music is life. Māori people sing from birth – it’s just a part of our cultural narrative – so to pinpoint a time is a hard thing to do because I’ve been doing it forever. Professionally, I probably started when I was 17 while I was still in school and very much involved in performing arts and kapa haka.

Rob: I first started to sing in kapa haka when I was a young boy – a story that many of our rangatahi share. In 2014, I was launched into the New Zealand music scene with powerful support and guidance from Maisey Rika, Tama Waipara and Ria, and I have never looked back. Music has been, and will always be my world.

You’ve both had pretty full-on schedules the last couple of months! How do you keep it up?

Rob: Lots of rest, good food, water and touching base with friends and whanau who are working in music. Finding inspiration in others and what they are doing always gets me excited about what I could do next! Although, the enthusiasm to wake up and do something you love is never hard to find.

Ria: I just finished ‘Soul Sistas of Matariki’ – it was an incredible experience to be surrounded by these women. We were sharing our own stories and life experiences through this musical journey. We were embodying what Matariki is – a time to come together in unity. I find at times like these it’s easy to keep going.

The tradition of storytelling is central to te ao Māori. How did growing up Māori influence how you use music to tell your stories?

Rob: The primary function of Māori music is to tell stories. Our traditional songs and haka are like the portable hard drives of our culture. My entire existence has been to serve this understanding and continue the tradition in a kapa haka context and a contemporary context as a solo artist. All of my compositions tell a story and I like my instruments to take on a character too. One brief I gave my percussionist for my waiata ‘Takiri’ was to be the thunder and lightning, so he mimicked the sounds in nature and captured the way our souls react to the power of these natural phenomena.

Ria: My culture is my backbone. And when creating, I tend to think from a cultural perspective because that’s what I know. It’s a natural occurrence that takes no thought process. It happens like the air I breathe.

Ria, can you tell us a bit about ‘Aotearoa’ and why you think it is important for te reo Māori to have a stronger presence in mainstream media?

Ria: ‘Aotearoa’ was born out of an idea to unite our country through te reo Māori. It was a no-brainer to be involved in this song when I was asked. I hope that our country will continue to support Māori language music, given that it’s the language of this land. There has been an attitude that songs in Māori are not good enough for mainstream radio – not that we care about opinion, we just want the language and messages heard because they represent us best.

Do you think that it's becoming more ‘normalised’ for te reo to be consumed by mainstream audiences?

Rob: As the pool of first language Māori speakers grows, so too does the pool of te reo Māori composers. It is a natural progression. I think if the music is good, people will enjoy it and play it regardless of the language the lyrics are written in.

Are we are seeing more examples of collective community? Have you noticed it transcending race?

Rob: Do you mean people coming together regardless of race, background or language, for a common cause? Yes. My album Pūmau is an example of that. The Kingitanga and Kotahitanga Movements are examples of that. I have been all around the world promoting indigenous views on contemporary issues through my music and they have been received, supported and celebrated. I hope this grows more.

Ria: This is a time where we need to come together and create a collective understanding. It is only through understanding and love that we can work as a collective community. Our society has a bit of growing up to do in that respect.

Why do you think that music inspires us?

Rob: Because it gets performed to a room full of people, but still has the ability to take you away to your own special place. People appreciate and love that.

Ria: Our lives would be dull without it. I know that mine would be!

Do you have any final words about the importance of music and generosity in Māoridom?

Rob: The Māori world I grew up in celebrated and championed values like working together, humility, giving to those in need, innovation, speaking the truth, love and spreading hope. Taking and selfishness were looked down upon – no one want to be called a hamu. This world is preserved and promoted in our music. Māori music is our history books, our manuals for today and our windows into the future. This is what I want to leave my children and my people. This is why I create music.

Ria: Manaakitanga is a word that encompasses so much. The essence of it is about being selfless and putting others before yourself with love. Music is no different. It is an act of sharing, thinking about the audience and how they feel. And the audience respond accordingly. Reciprocity – the way our nation should be thinking as we move forward into the future.

Words by Jd Nodder

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Mel Parsons

Sitting on a plane on the way to Canada, Mel Parsons took time out of her hectic tour schedule to spread a bit of light on what generosity means to her. New Zealand’s very own award-winning indie/folk/country songstress, Mel wants us to practise empathy, make sure we’re really listening, and to use our voices to spread the word on causes we are most passionate about.

What’s happening in the world of Mel Parsons for the upcoming summer? I’ve had a big year touring, so hopefully I’ll get a decent break somewhere – in my mind that means beach time, maybe some bike riding, and catching up with family and friends. I also have a few festivals over summer, and there always seems to be another tour just around the corner… 

What’s the most insanely generous thing a fan has ever done for you? One thing that blew me away was the number of people who joined in when I crowdfunded my most recent album. It’s a terrifyingly vulnerable position to be in – asking your fans to trust you enough to pre-order something they haven’t heard. Not to mention getting over our ingrained Kiwi-ness of not asking for help. 

While financially crowdfunding made it possible to actually make the album, even more valuable to me was the realisation that hundreds of people believe in me and enjoy the work I do. I can’t describe what that feels like, but it’s more than a little overwhelming to know that I have such a dedicated and supportive fanbase. I have eternal gratitude and respect for my fans, and am driven by the thought that I might be able to bring a little joy back to them through my music.

How important do you think it is for people who have a platform like yours to spread messages about creating positive change in the world? I think anyone who has a public platform and believes in something passionately should be free to spread that message as they see fit. With the myriad of issues facing humanity and the environment, people tend to get cause-fatigued, and creating positive change can seem impossible. 

Being too noisy about too many things can turn people off altogether. When we are constantly bombarded with causes people tend to shut off and think that the problems in the world are insurmountable, and so become overwhelmed and think their effort or contribution towards anything would be futile. 

I guess that is why it’s good to find the thing you are most passionate about, and use your platform and energy to spread that message. It has been proven time and time again over the course of history that positive change starts with one person – like you!

For me there are a lot of causes and things I believe in environmentally and politically, but the one that is closest to my heart and intrinsically woven through my music is mental health. I know from my own experience of depression and grief that music was truly the thing that pulled me through.

Can you name an everyday action that makes the world a better place, yet is underrated? Empathy. Let’s face it – everyone is busy. I feel like when we ask people, ‘how are you?’ it’s often a throw away greeting where we don’t really listen to the answer. When we genuinely listen and show that we care about other people and their situations, the outcome is always going to be positive. That person feels valued and loved, and those two things are contagious – when people love and value themselves they are able to spread the love! 

By taking time to ask people how they are and really listening to their response, we might just be the quiet reassurance they need at that particular time.

Photography by Geoff Browne

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Barnaby Weir

Barnaby Weir is no stranger to the New Zealand music scene: lead singer of The Black Seeds, band leader for Fly My Pretties and now working on his solo career, Barnaby knows a thing or two about using his platform to make the world a better place. A long-time Collective supporter, Barnaby gives us some tips about how a little ‘thank you’ can go a long way.

What’s happening in your world this summer? I just finished performing and recording with Fly My Pretties and we are taking the new String Theory show around the country over Jan and Feb, so I’m looking forward to that. Also The Black Seeds are working on a new album with some summer shows around and about. Aside from that, I just wanna get my cream and swim on! 

What’s the most insanely generous thing a fan has ever done for you? I’ve had many generous gestures from fans including homemade jams and original paintings gifted. But really the best gifts are the stories about important times in people’s lives where they had our music as the meaningful soundtracks to their special and key moments.

Knowing that we are somehow embedded in these people’s lives is inspiring and it encourages me to keep doing what I am doing. So when someone takes the time to write to me and tell me their story, I really appreciate it.

How important do you think it is for people who have a platform like yours to spread messages about creating positive change in the world? I think that it is essential to operate not in isolation, but with a sense of community, knowing that people are listening to what we have to say.

A message in isolation without action towards the goal or without showing solidarity is a waste. If you’re not getting involved when you can, it’s not a sincere philosophy. I think that if you have an audience you should try to show in your actions that you can make a difference and lead by example. Sometimes that means sticking your head out and representing a cause you believe in, in a public way. It’s always worth it. It’s true that actions speak louder than words a lot of the time.

Can you tell us a couple of other musicians whose impact on the world inspires you? Warren Maxwell is a great example of a musician who actually cares about our collective communities. Not only are his songs inspiring, when he speaks about issues that he thinks are important, he speaks from the heart and is never patronising to the audience. I respect that a lot.

James Coyle from the Nudge is another Nugetty soul who is very conscious of the issues affecting our communities. He gets involved in a lot of cool projects including the Newtown Festival, elevating young artists and adding value to the scene in Wellington. People like James Meharry and Karen from RDU also show their commitment to the community through RDU in Christchurch; watering, feeding and harvesting great projects in quake city. In my mind, they are total legends.

Can you name an everyday action that makes the world a better place, yet is underrated? Taking the time to acknowledge those who go the extra mile is a simple, but important, thing to do that we often forget. Acknowledging our local heroes might be as easy as an email thanking them for what they do to make your city and our world a better place. Showing gratitude, supporting those who support others, saying, ‘thank you’, out of the blue. Showing that you’re aware of people’s selfless efforts to make this world a better place. Showing that you’re there for them and that you are also human, that you care. This, I think, is an underrated action of love and human solidarity.

Photography by Pat Shepherd

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Martin Andrews

Martin Andrews is sure that Princess Diana waved to him when he was a young boy in Petone, but he hasn’t let the fame go to his head. A combat sports enthusiast whose love for humanity led him to leave his corporate day job and head on to brighter and bolder things, Martin now splits his time between his role as Operations Manager at Kaibosh Food Rescue and building a career in music. Here, he imparts some inspiring words about being brave, living life to its fullest and the universality of music.  

Prior to Kaibosh I mostly worked in the private sector, until there came a moment when I realised that wasn’t the right choice for me. The companies I had worked for had no objective other than to accumulate financial wealth; I clashed with that ideology on many levels.

My early life was shaped most significantly by being raised in a single parent family in a low socioeconomic area. When I was 19 I decided to pay my way to Seattle and play for a rugby club for six months. While I was there I had a ‘light bulb’ moment involving music, which led to me acquiring my first guitar when I returned home to New Zealand. That started the journey I continue to travel today.

I’m very passionate about people being brave enough to follow their own path, and music was mine. But I still needed a part-time job; one that meant I could work for my community and that aligned with my personal values. Kaibosh ticked those boxes. I had been volunteering when a paid part-time role came up as a driver, and then later as Operations Manager. I’ve been in that role ever since.

One of the most challenging aspects of my job is trying to fit everything I need to do into a 25-hour work week! As Operations Manager I’m responsible for the day-to-day running of Kaibosh. I have to ensure that our drivers, donors and recipient charities are all being treated respectfully and that their needs are being met. I’m also a donor through One Percent Collective. I like the fact that once my 1% is added to the pool it becomes a large chunk of money to be distributed out, back into my own community.

Working at Kaibosh has had a huge impact on my life. I meet inspiring people on a daily basis. The type of people that keep communities running, the unrecognised people who help those that society allows to fall through the cracks. These people inspire me one thousand times more than any privately owned company head ever could. 

Every day is a surprise. Today, for example, my boss gave me a book of haiku poetry – how many people are lucky enough to say that sentence? I feel blessed and grateful every day for where I have landed. 

The fact that I am able to dedicate time to working on music is something that I am thankful for. I get to break music down to its nuts and bolts and manipulate it in interesting ways, and when I see other people doing the same thing it fascinates me. I find it endlessly inspiring. 

Music is the real international language, a truly human experience that we all share. You don’t need to understand the language or genre for the music to move you. Music inspires a generosity of spirit. When times are difficult I can always find a piece of music to change my mood, or to empathise with how I’m feeling. For me, music is a constant during trying times.

Photography by Pat Shepherd. Words by Jd Nodder

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Kate Ricketts

Wellington born and bred, Kate Ricketts has travelled the world, taught English in Japan and missed out on two Radiohead concerts. From overplaying her Red Hot Chili Peppers and Aqua cassettes as a young girl to discovering local music at The Rogue and Vagabond, Kate has now fully immersed herself in arts, music and daily acts of generosity with Boosted, and through her regular support of One Percent Collective and our partner charities.

After studying Art History in Otago, running a gallery in Queenstown and working in Maˉori art promotion at Toi Maˉori Aotearoa, I decided to move to Japan. My plan was to learn Japanese and support the building of arts relations between Japan and New Zealand, but fate intervened and instead I moved to London with my partner. Unfortunately, fate played its hand again and my partner got ill so I was unable to work in the arts. When he recovered we continued to travel the world until ending up back home where I scored a role with the Arts Foundation of New Zealand (they run Boosted) who have been raising money for the arts for 15 years. 

As Project Manager and Digital Producer I lead a team of eight kickass individuals who grow and support the number of arts projects that successfully crowdfund with Boosted. We have a pretty broad definition of what art is and cover a range of creative endeavours including the sonic arts, fashion, game design and architecture.

Through great mentoring, and a bit of osmosis, I have picked up really valuable fundraising experience. Most groups I am involved with need money to achieve their goals, and for a lot of people figuring out where to go and how much to ask for can be really tough. One of my favourite parts of my job is helping people discover what makes them unique and exciting; what it is about their story that will resonate with their crowd. 

I love that Boosted educates, funds and connects creatives. Crowdfunding is a tool based on really old-school fundraising strategies; it is a tool that helps gather supporters in one place, exciting them and making it easy for them to join something. Thanks to crowdfunding, music that is considered ‘uncommercial’ now has a way of being supported by the many generous communities out there. It’s such a fun process for the person donating, but also requires a generosity of spirit from the artist too. 

For example, the artist can take fans behind the scenes of the recording process or invite them to be part of creating something new. Now, non-music makers suddenly have access to something that they think is pure magic – music. Supporters need to be fostered and loved, and when an artist shares something special with them this relationship continues to grow and creates a cycle of giving.

Working in the arts I would come across amazing acts of philanthropy every day and Boosted is no exception. So many projects have received last minute, incredibly generous donations and, more often than not, these knights in shining armour swoop in and save the day anonymously. While this is awesome, I do think that you should put your name against what you support – it’s an endorsement that you believe that person or group are doing great things. Your excitement and support can be contagious.

Being at Boosted has taught me a lot of valuable skills but it has also made me far more generous with my time, my money and, strangely, my social media output. I get a thrill from seeing projects I was part of come to fruition. I celebrate the successes of organisations that I support and get some awesome feel-good factor as they become stronger or try new things. Now it’s your turn – go forth and be generous!

Photography by Pat Shepherd. Words by Jd Nodder

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Jess Holly Bates

For Jess Holly Bates, coffee from Eighthirty and a little joy is all she needs to get out of bed every morning. Born in the far north where the women are ‘hard’ and the tough rhetoric runs through your blood, Jess is an artist, poet, flute teacher and dancer who is lending her creative talents to our partner charity, Nga Rangatahi Toa (NRT) – and did we mention she’s about to get a bona fide eighties perm?

My mother raised me in a house that loved to sing, so from an early age I had a soft spot for music, musicals and performing. When I was 24 I started to perform and generate my own work. I want to write and make work that is necessary – that is, that needs to be made. For me, this has meant taking account of my privilege to live and breathe in a land that was never mine in the first place. I always start from necessity, but don’t necessarily have control of where it will end up. My most recent work is this outrageous feminist sketch show called ‘The Offensive Nipple Show’. It’s about finding ways to be silly and empowered in the female body. I like to remind people that they are allowed to laugh at themselves. This, to me, is a massive pathway for change.

I’m kind of a closet flautist, although Claire Cowan recently outed me by casting me as one in the Blackbird Ensemble, but it still makes me sweat being seen doing it! Although, on that note, I think sweat is one of the biggest gifts that music gives me. Every human has the right to a good shake down! I have recently fallen in love with this amazing dance practice called Open Floor, which (website drop) is about accessing emotional and muscular intelligence through dance. It’s super intergenerational and diverse, and connection is a huge part of it. Another of my favourites is No Lights No Lycra. Like, finally, people get permission to move their bodies. Seriously, people come out changed.

The place I see generosity, listening and empathy most at work is in the arts. In my sector, we have to operate on an economy of kindness and faith – partly because of funding cuts, and partly because trust and hope are fundamental to the creative process. This is the place I learn the most about being a human being. Our current government doesn’t prioritise the arts, but since crowdfunding launched in New Zealand it has made very apparent that the true backbone of the arts is this wellspring of public generosity that keeps our vital works alive.  

One of my struggles is knowing how to be gentle with myself. Like I say, my upbringing is a mixture of the protestant work ethic and the pioneer emotional repression, so it’s always an intense fight whether I am ever doing or being enough. When I found Sarah Longbottom’s mantra, echoing that of my hero Brené Brown, that vulnerability is the wellspring of creativity – it really resonated with me. I hadn’t seen any other organisation connecting wholeheartedness with social change in such a powerful way; it made we want to see what I could give to NRT. 

My main focus at the moment is working as creative director on Manawa Ora, the inter-arts performance platform for rangatahi to showcase their collaborative work. For one incredible week in October, the rangatahi get to perform and we get to illustrate NRT’s values of high-trust, vulnerability and compassionate creative opportunities on the Herald stage. Ultimately, we want to build a work made entirely on their terms, supporting their ideas and stories to be held with grace and gravity. It’s going to be phenomenal!

I think that as adults we sometimes forget what being young was like. For the NRT rangatahi life can be especially gnarly, but they are no strangers to our experiences too: they have the same woes and loves and embarrassments as everyone else. Sure, they are magical humans, but they are also incredibly ordinary. Manawa Ora gives the public the opportunity to see these two qualities held together, and the chance to demonstrate to the rangatahi that they are enough, that they have enormous capacity rattling around inside them. 

Personally, the best part of working with these kids is this gorgeous vacillating uncertainty of what they will make. They demonstrate that you can hold uncertainty, as a person, and keep going, even when things get challenging. Watching their tenacity and their wit in the face of adversity is just phenomenal. They keep me holding hands with what-might-be, and encourage me not to let go. 

Photography by Sacha Stejko. Words by Jd Nodder

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Good Stuff

Good Stuff doing good things


Yoga Rhapsody combines two of our fave things: yoga and music. Paul and Jemma host amazing public classes and generously volunteer with a number of free classes for community organisations in the Wellington area.


Defender Bags are made in New Zealand from recycled billboards. Our Collective partner charity SpinningTop has been producing the bags for over five years, with 100% of profits supporting vulnerable children in Thailand and Burma. Their shoppers and tote bags are ideal for the Sunday market and due to the vinyl billboards used, every design is unique!


Street Smart encourages audiences to look beyond the stigma of homelessness and see them for who they are – humans in need of understanding and aroha. Loading Docs plays host to a selection of awe-inspiring three minute documentaries including Street Smart, which features Regina Toto, from our partner charity DCM, sharing her story of a life on the streets.


Thunderpants have partnered with Al Brown to deliver the ultimate Kiwi classic fundraiser, the sausage sizzle … with a twist. Their Sausage Sizzle Philanthropants range will donate a portion of sales to a different charity each month. To kick things off they will be supporting Collective partner charity, Garden to Table, helping to deliver food education to schools throughout NZ.


New Zealand Coffee Roasters Guide is a new guide to coffee and the speciality roasters across NZ who roast it best. Brought to you by our friends at Neat Places, this wee guide is well worth hunting down for all you coffee lovers!


Allbirds are by far the most comfortable shoes in the world. A Kiwi innovation made from merino wool, these super simple beauties are taking the footwear world by storm. Our fave Kiwi friends Flight of the Conchords have been seen rockin’ them around the US and our One Percent Collective crew swear by them. Big thanks to the merino sheep of NZ.


Misery Guts are up to mischief again with their wonderful new range of kids patches. Sew or pin them onto clothing, shoes, hats, bags, beach towels and so much more. A great way to bring your collective rascals together.


Unf*ck The World tees are brought to you by our partner charity Nga Rangatahi Toa. These straight-up tees and more are now available through their online store, with all the profits supporting the rangatahi NRT works with.


Little Yellow Bird is an innovative social enterprise that provides uniforms to corporates wanting to demonstrate their commitment to social good by wearing ethical and organic workwear.

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