Quarantine music and its prayer-like quality
Updated: Jul 1
I truly believe music can be healing and there is a spiritual element to it. Whether you consider yourself ‘spiritual’ or not, the practice of writing a song is a form of creativity that expresses the deepest meanings of what it is to be fully human. This reckoning is at the core of prayer. Prayers are not an altogether pious or holy act. Rather, prayer and meditation is an expression all that is messy about life- the moments of frustration, apathy, bliss and elation. Prayer is an act of vulnerability.
Whether you have seen videos of people singing from balconies during lockdown, performances on the streets or overheard a neighbour practicing a musical instrument, to listen to music during lockdown is a joy that uplifts its audiences. Apparently using music to fight the fear of ‘pandemics’ has a long history stretching back through the Black Death to the 7th century BC.
There have been a few songs during quarantine that have felt like ‘prayer’ when listening to them. Artists have continued to release music in a raw and stripped back way echoing this slower pace of life.
If you’re in the mood for a calm evening of music, here are some of my personal favourites I want to pay homage to:
Lianne La Havas ‘Paper Thin’
This song came to me on shuffle during a quarantine evening walk. It was the perfect expression of everything quarantine has been making me think about. The idea that we are having to evolve in new ways due to the climate of change we find ourselves in, and inevitably, change is always accompanied by discomfort.
The song opens with a relaxed drum kick mixed with an unfolding electric guitar that cascades over a steady bass. La Havas’ ethereal and contemplative tone rests on the entire composition with the opening line:
“Paper-thin / God only knows the pain you’re in, but the future’s bright you’ve got God on your side. He’s Listening.”
She describes that fragile feeling that comes with the wrestle of self-development and letting go. The feeling of going into uncharted territory can have you feeling ‘paper thin’ even though you know there is growth on the other side.
La Havas also released a Tiny Desk (At Home) Concert for NPR where she opened with “Paper Thin.” This version, with a visual of just her and her guitar was a rustic self-recording that sounds like she’s triumphed over the process of change with a quiet confidence. The way she plays the guitar like a harp also has a beautiful ‘running water’ quality to it:
WILLOW and Jahnavi Harrison ‘Surrender’
I discovered Jahnavi Harrison after watching a Russell Brand Under The Skin interview. On it she speaks of her collaboration with Willow Smith (extremely talented/ free-spirited/ old soul daughter of actor Will Smith), and her upbringing in a family of yoga practitioners in one of England’s most spiritual landmarks. I was so moved by how she spoke about her spiritual identity. She claims that service and altruism with music is possible despite the industry’s reputation for Ego. This song is stunning and has been described as ‘a rendition of the sacred prayer for protection and shelter purportedly sung by Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu (Indian guru and saint within Hinduism) as he walked the length of India.’
Jahnavi and Willow, met last year and share a belief that music heals, uplifts and raises consciousness. They both felt that this collaboration was needed in our current times of COVID19 to address the many aches we have as a human family.
Sinead Harnett ‘Quarantine Queen’
The music video for ‘Quarantine Queen’ was DIY (like most things at the moment- baked goods, haircuts and home improvement jobs to say the least!). She wrote, recorded, directed, and edited the entire video completely on her own.
The inspiration behind the song is a unique perspective on the effects of the current state of the world, and the fear that comes with ‘apocalyptic’ imaginings of it coming to an end. Harnett opens up to describe her fear of not having done enough to express love to others and for humanity before it’s too late.
What a beautiful ‘prayer’ and way of reflecting on the truest purpose of our time on earth.
Pip Millet ‘Ava’
From the ‘Lost In June EP’, this song has been a soothing balm for me throughout quarantine. There is something in her words that shows such mastery of lyricism. The chorus has a lullaby-like swing to its melody, as she speaks with a gentle and protective love for a friend whilst she hears them going through a hard time.
Many of us have had these conversations with family and friends in the face of unemployment, ill-health or heaviness when watching the news. This song reminds me of the push and pulls I see when we are forced to self-isolate. There is an instinct to turn inwards and isolate yourself more when things are difficult. Avoiding conversations we should be having. When instead of retracting, we should be reaching out now more than ever. She sings:
Don’t try pushing me away, Know that I am here to stay,
You’re never on your own
I will pick up the phone
Kisses and hugs
I just love you
I don’t mind you crying
And I think of all the times when
you were there for me
And you cared for me
Millet wanted this album to touch on mental health issues, and I feel this could very easily be a conversation between two friends or sisters during a time of depression or isolation.
The ‘prayer’ is the plea from loved ones to continue smiling, loving and leaning into support.
Jacob Collier, Mahalia, Ty Dolla $ign ‘ All I Need’
I’m generally in love with the creative genius of Jacob Collier so tend to like most of his work. However, it was this Rap Genius video of his mad-scientist-lab-experiment process of making this song that sparked my unhealthy obsession with it. Collier has made a song that’s a sunny meditation on what it feels like to completely accept another human. Something we need more of to combat the hatred of anti-racism that is spreading like a virus.
Listen to the way he speaks about love and finding the perfect sound to express it. P.S. the fact that he says “wagwan” in the most British way possible also really tickled me:
Anthony Hamilton (feat. Rick James) ‘Back Together’
Anthony Hamilton has the most soulful voice on any given day, but the fact that he did a collaboration with Rick James during Quarantine was perfect timing. The song has an old-school ‘Spike Lee joint’ romance quality which seems that bit more appealing during a global pandemic. Honestly, I like the visuals of the video more than the actual song itself but it’s still so timely, humorous and wonderful:
Very quarantine in theme as well as she tells her love interest she’ll ‘be right back’ (Bit of a theme of everyone missing their boos right?!). Anyway, the ‘prayer’ quality of this for me comes from the idea that there are so many things in life we can be in love with that we should promise ourselves we should get back to.
This period of retreat has allowed us to do a mental filtering to distill our lives to the purely essential things that bring us joy.
This song gives music and prayer to the promise that we’ll BRB to those things. We can remove the unnecessary distractions and be completely in love with the things that are worthy of our time and our affection.
Verzuz quarantine Instagram Battles
I really miss seeing live music, but the Verzuz sessions on Instagram Live along with NPR Tiny Desk concerts has given me the closest thing to it. My favourites have been Jill Scott verus Erykah Badu- two Neo-Soul giants in pure celebration of everything divine feminine, music and culture. Unapologetically soulful. Alicia Keys versus John Legend was also beautiful, but the one that truly moved me and left me feeling lighter was Fred Hammond and Kirk Franklin’s ‘healing edition’.
This is the only thing on this list that is explicitly Christian, but the healing it gave to the Black Community and beyond was so necessary. In the face of the loss of George Floyd and many others this was the gospel medley we needed to grieve, to put the pain to rest and be refreshed to keep fighting.
Tom Misch quarantine sessions ‘Them Changes’
Not an original song released this year, but this is a cover that comes from a series of quarantine sessions Tom Misch did to share new beats and tutorials straight from his bedroom. I love this cover he’s done of ‘Them Changes’ by Thundercat. Instrumentals help you pay attention to the beauty of the music and the absence of words. Equally though, it made me realise the words for this song are pretty heavy and that quarantine is a strange time to be going through ‘them changes’ and discovery of a new ‘normal’.
I love that Tom Misch has covered this and inspired aspiring funk artists out there.
I could go on with more quarantine releases I’ve been loving but for the sakes of keeping the post relatively short, I’ll ask:
What have been your favourite songs in this time?
Do you find music healing?
If you are lost for words on how to tell someone you are thinking of them today consider sending them a song or a playlist to do it for you. It captures temporary feelings an a permanent way.
Connect with me on Instagram @riah_writes to keep the conversation going.