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Here to share the love

Soulful singer-songwriter Louis Baker is making his return to Gisborne next month for Te Tairāwhiti Arts Festival.

Baker is one of the most compelling voices to emerge from Aotearoa New Zealand's fertile musical landscape.

Last year he released a five-track album on love and life called Love Levitates, in which he details love, friendship, whānau and the in-between.

Like many at the top of the New Zealand music scene, Baker has a massive audience overseas in comparison with local listeners.

To date, he has received over 25 million Spotify streams worldwide with numbers steadily growing. Last year he had 1.1 million listeners on Spotify who collectively listened to Baker sing for 245,000 hours.

It won't be his first time on the East Coast. As well as performing at the Dome a few years ago, Baker has helped to tutor students at Gisborne Girls' High School as part of a music outreach programme.

Baker says it is important to give back, especially in a music community as tight knit as the one in New Zealand.

“You know pretty much everyone, which is quite a nice feeling. It is definitely a whanau.”

In 2019 Baker released his critically acclaimed debut album, Open, which received a prestigious Taite Music Prize nomination and Aotearoa Music Award nominations for Best Soul Artist and Best Māori Artist.

Since then, years of touring through the UK, Europe and Australia helped build a following overseas, but with the borders closed he is focusing on New Zealand.

“It is simpler and I love it here. I think I'm more of a homebody than I am a traveller.”

But fame is not what motivates Baker.

“Making music, art and connecting with people is the most important thing, more than any kind of success or any kind of accolade or anything like that.

“I love telling stories and I think that's where I come from with my music — it's telling stories.

“Sometimes I write them straight up with empathy for other people who might not have had that personal or lived experience.”

Love Levitates is about the different stages and flavours of love.

“For example, the song Brighter Day is about the love of whanau, the love particularly for my koro, my grandfather, who was in the 28th (Māori) Battalion. Then there's Love Levitates, which is sort of a philosophical, existential type of love, which talks about the universe and our interconnectedness.”

Baker grew up immersed in mediation when his mum and dad introduced Eastern philosophies, which has been a big part of Baker's life and thinking.

His song Overdrive touches on a new love when you meet and there is an amazing bond like you have met them before.

“It is about an almost instant falling-in-love-at-first-sight type of love.”

The writing process for each song is different.

Inspiration for Baker comes from the likes of Alan Watts' poetry or an Al Green record, whatever sparks his imagination.

“There's no real formula but every song has to have a message, a melody, lyrics, chord structure — they are the building blocks that you work with, but I guess you have just got to follow your feels. You follow your heart and follow what feels right and the rest just falls into place.”

“I've always loved music. I remember being young and dancing around in the lounge listening to The Beatles' Rubber Soul with my old man who was really into psychedelic 60s music.

Then he got a guitar and became “absolutely obsessed by it”, but didn't start singing until he was 17 after meeting his sister's boyfriend, who was his first guitar teacher. His teacher ended up taking his own life but that love of music was passed on to Baker.

Baker will perform a stripped-back selection of songs from his new album and favourites from his catalogue accompanied by keys and backing vocals.

Louis Baker performs on February 10 at Festival Club, Lawson Field Theatre, as part of Te Tairawhiti Arts Festival. Tickets start at $31.50 from iticket.co.nz

READY FOR THE STAGE: Louis Baker is coming to Gisborne for Te Tairāwhiti Arts Festival. He will play songs from his new album and a few of his favourites. Picture supplied