In a time of physical disconnection, Bay of Plenty musicians are continuing to connect people online with live concerts.

A Lockdown Soul Sessions initiative is under way, having grown from a conversation between Rotorua Lakes Council performing arts director Cian Elyse White and accomplished performer Bobby Mihi Howard.

"As soon as I reached out to Bobby, she grew that idea from a tiny little seed," White said.

The pair have been organising performances on Facebook live via the Aronui Arts Festival page, every couple of days.


Howard put her hand up to do the first live last Wednesday night, then came Arthur Bristowe on Thursday night, Trojahn on Friday, Krissie Knap on Saturday and Mitsy and Moko on Monday this week.

Tui and Silver Scroll award winner Ria Hall has even joined the kaupapa.

The Tauranga artist is performing a 45-minute guest appearance on April 10 at 8pm.

"The sole purpose is ... to keep the community morale and spirits lifted," White said.

What is 'Lockdown Soul Sessions?'

Lockdown Soul Session Info <3

Posted by Aronui Arts Festival on Thursday, 26 March 2020

After making it big in New Zealand performing arts, White returned to Rotorua to contribute to the community she grew up in and the sessions are another manifestation of that.

"Part of my main kaupapa is to use art as a vehicle for hope and healing ... If you look at what it's getting people through right now. It's music. It's turning into television. It's reading storybooks to the children for their sleep. It's having a laugh. It's watching a movie on Netflix. It's everything that allows us to still feel connected and human."

She said the pandemic put her in "an emergency mode" in terms of her work.

"I was thinking ... 'How can I help, knowing that all of my resources are about to be taken away from me? We're not going to have the venues, we're not going to be allowed to meet, we're no longer going to even have an office space where we can work from. What can we do?"


One of the biggest motivators for Howard has been giving the "raw talent" in Rotorua more exposure.

"Early on I recognised there was so much talent in this town, but how come people don't know about it outside of Rotorua?"

Posted by Aronui Arts Festival on Tuesday, 24 March 2020

She said the artists had been "happy" to engage, especially at a time when they had lost thousands of dollars worth of bookings as a result of Covid-19.

"They see it as something that is really important ... They feel really honoured and privileged to be a part of it."

"You never know what a song might do to someone in need," Howard said.

She is leading the NZ Music Month programming in Rotorua, and is already planning ways for Rotorua performances to be accessible online if they cannot be experienced in person in May.

"When I've seen the lives this week I've got a new sense of their [Rotorua artists] singing and their music ... It's a different time."

White wanted to "act fast".

"To be honest, I was worried about the mental health of our people ... So the series started to give people at least for half an hour to an hour, where we can provide a platform of social connection and interaction via music."

The pair have managed to arrange a small koha for each artist to "uplift" them too, on "a humble budget". The Government's official Covid-19 advisory website