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Write-up: A Gig For Gaza

The Wine Cellar
Wednesday November 15th

Words: Rosetta Stone


There’s a comfort that comes from recognition of a crisis, particularly when it spans beyond political or news spheres. A Gig For Gaza was a reminder of what we have known for a long time in Aotearoa: art and culture are not simply distractions from the world around us, and it is more often than not our artists that pave the way to open dialogue, provide the space to grieve as a collective and facilitate change. I attended A Gig For Gaza, torn between the selfishness of seeking escapism of music that I love in a live setting, and craving emotional togetherness during a time that can feel really helpless. I was surprised, however, at the duality of Jazmine Mary, Tiny Ruins, and Carnivorous Plant Society, in their abilities to express grief, frustration, and much-needed joy, hope, and silliness, while recognizing their role in the night: to provide a platform for, a space to connect with, and an opportunity to learn from Palestinian Youth Aotearoa.


Upon entering the Wine Cellar, an uplifting atmosphere almost catches me off guard before the feeling of togetherness sets in. Greeted at the venue entrance with infographics and links to journalists in Gaza, I enter a room lit up in green and red lights, with a Palestinian flag hanging, and the black and white call for “Ceasefire Now” on the wall behind the stage. Very quickly, I grasped that this was not a solemn crowd. Emotions are high, but there are determined spirits in the dialogue around me. 


As Jazmine Mary begins their solo set on acoustic guitar, an invisible curtain of calm casts over the door, and the bustling bar is suddenly miles away. An attentive crowd sits crossed-legged on the ground looking up at Mary. Starting the set with Wet Mouth, the melancholy tune seems to generate a collective exhale. Mary’s intimate set features moments of pin-drop-pauses, deep breaths, delicate flicks into the singer's breathy head voice, defiant belts, fingerpicking, and dynamic strumming on both acoustic and electric guitar which seem to capture the range of stages of grief amongst audience members. Pondering their own experiences of grief and heartache between songs, Mary gives intimate insights into the meaning of each song in a way that makes the setlist feel particularly purposeful. Mary describes album opener Dope as “a lust song for Jesus” in a moment of comedic relief, before going on to acknowledge elements of spirituality in their songs when introducing Pony Baby (country lovechild of Mary and Arahi) track This Town; “I think grief and harm can at the very least get us very close to our humanity…. if we let it”. This Town was a particular highlight for me, an unreleased gentle mesh of banjo and acoustic guitar picking from the duo, but the crowd quickly picks up the main vocal lyrics when Mary calls out “feels like one of those times when collective singing is a good idea?”. While much of Jazmine Mary’s set feels like a broader reflection on navigating grief, their reflections upon Gaza and the importance of the night to them are messages of hope and togetherness: “It’s a relief to be here and sing for you and with you, we need it. We need to feel and cultivate hope. I appreciate you being here and doing that.” 


Before Hollie Fullbrook and Cass Basil grace the stage as Tiny Ruins in duo formation, Fullbrook introduces Bob and Mina, representatives from Tamaki Loves Palestine and Palestinian Youth Aotearoa, who give heartfelt speeches on both their “rage, disbelief, and grief” (Bob) towards the situation in Gaza, while reflecting on their own experiences visiting Palestine, their connection the people, and culture. Mina, who is herself Palestinian, reflects on her time visiting Palestine as “the first time [she] ever felt like [she] had a home country”. Both the activists urge audience members to “Join, share, write to your MPs, ask questions”. In response, chants of “free free Palestine” and “from the river to the sea Palestine will be free” erupt.


As Tiny Ruins Duo settles into their groove, beginning the set with the wistful In Light of Everything, the two reassure each other on stage while filling the emotional space left by Mina and Bob. Fullbrook starts on acoustic guitar, while Basil holds down a smooth groove on the bass. While it’s pretty hard to imagine the tender vocals of Hollie Fullbrook expressing feelings of anger and frustration, there's a quiet determination you can’t miss in her delivery of Sounds Like, singing particularly poignant lyrics such as “The message reads over and over, why does it have to be so hard?” Vocal harmonies from Basil add serene layers to Out of Phase, and the air in the room is a strange mix of melancholic peace and hope. Fullbrook briefly acknowledges this cocktail and the overwhelming nature of having a platform in a crisis; “It’s really nice to be in a room with all of you, I feel very grateful to the organisers, and there’s so many things I wanna say and yell, but music is my best language.” Fullbrook asks that for the next song, Earthly Things, audience members visualise sending all the energy conjured up in the room to Palestinians in Gaza. The song’s chorus hook “earthly things, turn the light on my love” gains new meaning amongst the captivated crowd. The duo’s moving set ends with The Crab / Waterbaby, and as Fullbrook adjusts her tuning for the final time, beginning the entrancing and uplifting fingerpicking pattern, she gently sings a final “free Palestineeee” into her mic.


After what has been a truly beautiful, moving, but deeply emotional night, Carnivorous Plant Society provides a necessary set of funk and ultimately silly grooves to close the night. The four-piece band breaks out immediately into a full horns section, swapping quickly between their horns/wind instruments and their main instruments. Cass Basil manages to surprise the crowd with her knack for the tin whistle, as we are well familiar with her bass chops from the prior set. Finn Scholes has built quite an impressive corner of gear for himself, jumping seamlessly between vibraphone, trumpet, tuba, and multiple synths throughout the set. While Scholes has mastered the art of one-handed trumpet, poor Alistair Deverick on drums has the near-impossible, but hilarious to watch and impressively executed role of several mid-song switches between trombone and drums. One can’t help but giggle when Scholes pulls out the tuba for the first time, and the crowd does. 


The energy in the room has almost entirely shifted, and the surprisingly natural progression of the night from Jazmine Mary, to Tiny Ruins Duo, to this, feels entirely necessary. Scholes leads the interludes of dialogue, introducing the band as well as their “horn names”: Fluge, Skank… poor Basil is yet to receive her flute name. Scholes announces the shift into the “Latin part of the night” which launches with El Perro no Puede Entrar, or ‘The Dog Is Not Allowed In’, an infectious tune that immediately gets the crowd dancing. The guitar and organ riffs mimic and dance around each other, and the band holds the groove down as Scholes rips into yet another impressive trumpet solo. The trumpet quickly deteriorates into reverb-drenched pedal playing, working well as the song breaks down into a sloppy, drunk-feeling funk, with healthy doses of cowbell. As the song fizzles out, Scholes quips “That was the dog dying at the end”. Charming elements of the whole band’s personalities are brought out through solos and cheeky digs at one another between songs. Even the songs themselves feel conversational and interactive. The band’s last song;  cruisey, horn-filled, and dance-inducing My Mum Is Proud Of Me, isn’t announced until after the fact, when Finn says casually “That was our last song… we might potentially have another one” before inviting Hollie Fullbrook back on stage to show us her percussion chops. 


The night has truly ended on a high, and the range of music and performance feels somewhat representative of the range of high-running emotions. In one night of truly fantastic music, the intimate crowd at the Wine Cellar have processed grief alongside one another, expressed hope, determination, joy, and much-needed comedic, silly, dance-worthy relief. While doing what they’re best at, Jazmine Mary, Tiny Ruins, and Carnivorous Plant Society have come together to provide a platform for Palestinian Youth Aotearoa, as well as provide those passionate about the cause the space to connect with one another.