Oxfam's musician friends and staff share the music that kept us feeling hopeful this year.
2021 has been A YEAR. Political upheaval, Covid-19 surges, humanitarian emergencies—you name it, it probably happened. Thankfully, we had some amazing music to score our lives—new music and old favorites—that helped us stay afloat. Music has this ability to offer you a release, a hug of reassurance, a shoulder to cry on, a vehicle that allows you to transcend your day to day. And this year, more than ever, we relied on music to lift us up.
Oxfam, with the help of our musician friends, put together a list of the songs that kept hope alive for us. Enjoy our 2021 mix. We hope this playlist gives you a booster shot of inspiration.
Read on to discover our recommendations and learn why they've been meaningful to us.
Atisha: I could listen to Vancouver Sleep Clinic's “Middle of Nowhere” on a loop forever! I find something new in it every time I hear it. It's a complete escape!
Nishita: Luca Fogale - “Every Colour.” This song reminds me that there is light in everything, even if it doesn't seem that way in the moment.
Maggie Rose, @Iammaggierose
Allison Russell’s Outside Child. This album is not only important and courageous, but sonically beautiful and commanding. It has been in heavy rotation in my house and will stand the test of time. One of the best albums of 2021!
Luke Sital-Singh, @lukesitalsingh
I’m one of those weird people that finds joy in sad music. One song I had on repeat this year is “Pressure Machine” by The Killers The whole record is worth a listen, but this song is a favorite. The record is inspired by stories of [lead singer] Brandon Flowers’ hometown. Very human, intimate stories that made me feel connected to people I had nothing yet everything in common with.
I used to be a lyrics, lyrics, lyrics person. But recently I find I’m drawn to atmospheres and sounds a lot more. Another song that helped me through these last couple years is one such vibe song, “Deep In Love” by Bonny Light Horseman. The way it flows along like warm breeze. It just makes me feel calm and steady, and Eric Johnson’s voice floats over the top in such a beautiful way. This song just takes me there every time I hear it.
The Ballroom Thieves, @ballroomthieves
Martin Earley: “Better Way” by Watchhouse. This pure gem of a song swept me off my feet when I first heard it, and I've been listening to it on repeat ever since. I take breaks when I shower because I do not own a shower radio.
Callie Peters: “Turnaround (Cocaine Song)” by Tōth. This song caught me immediately! It's a really great walking pace, and every time I listen to it, I smile and nod my head twice on the right and twice on the left the whole time. Whistling! Trumpet! Vocal clarity! The lyrics are more like a story told in run-on sentences with a catchy chorus in between breaths, and the dancing in the video is perfect.
I keep coming back to Lucky Daye and Yebba’s “How Much Can a Heart Take;” I think they’re my favorite artists of 2021. I love pretty much everything they’ve released and the pocket and vibe on this track is no exception.
Khruangbin’s Mordechai album is simply amazing and instantly puts me in a good mood.
Harris Paseltiner of Darlingside, @darlingside
"Look Out Any Window" by Bruce Hornsby, The Range is pure jubilation—especially the energetic piano solo at 2:51. Often I've felt stuck inside and disconnected from other people during the pandemic. I've found that the (gloriously harmonized) chorus of this song is a good reminder to look outside and remember that the real world exists.
When I feel overwhelmed by the state of the world, "Love" by John Lennon gives me hope.
Jinkx Monsoon & BenDeLaCreme
Jinkx Monsoon, @thejinkx
The song “Everything Stays" from the cartoon "Adventure Time," sung by Olivia Olson. This song was written by a personal hero, Rebecca Sugar—I love it because it reminds you that you can come back to things after a break, and even if they’ve changed, they’ll often be waiting for you when you’re ready. I find that this rule goes for true friends as well.
Orville Peck’s cover of “Born This Way” brought a lot of meaning to a song that I had never felt strongly about in the past. Hearing a queer person sing those words made them resonate in a whole different way. Rather than a nod of respect to the queer community, it felt like a personal story of self-acceptance that I could relate to strongly. Instead of “gay is ok,” I was able to hear my own experience reflected back, the struggle of finding the inner voice that tells you you’re ok when the world outside says otherwise. This was a year where we all needed to learn to tell ourselves that no matter how much we are struggling, it’s ok.
Catch them on tour. More info and their holiday film at www.jinkxanddela.com .
Oxfam staff picks
Danny Hajjar, Media Officer
“Sal de Lo Malo” by Cimafunk. I mean, this song is too fun. Cimafunk is an Afro-Cuban artist completely redefining Latin genres and pushing the boundaries of what rhythms and music can sound like. He’s absolutely incredible.
“Zolly” by MaMan. MaMan is such a cool and fun Sudanese artist who beautifully blends together English and Arabic over Afro rhythms. This song instantly puts me in a good mood, and I’m also a sucker of songs that mix multiple languages.
Divya Amladi, Content Producer & Copywriter
Japanese Breakfast’s “Be Sweet.” I just finished reading “Crying in H Mart,” the memoir from Michelle Zauner (who performs as Japanese Breakfast) in which she processes her mother’s death and what it means to be Korean-American in light of her Korean mother’s passing. If you haven’t read it (or listened to the audiobook), I highly recommend checking it out. After following her grief journey, I feel invested in Zauner’s life, so it was awesome to see her come out on the other side with “Be Sweet,” which has this joyous ‘80s vibe, and a message of forgiveness. Plus, the music video for this song is hilarious.
Meghan Lindahl, Social Media Specialist
“Rollercoaster” by Bleachers. A lot of this album by Bleachers is my stave-off-seasonal-sadness-dance-around-the-apartment-with-my-roommates music. Just makes me feel better.
“It’s Called: Freefall” by Rainbow Kitten Surprise. This is one of my sister’s favorite bands; earlier this year she moved to Boulder and my family misses her lots, so RKS makes me think of her.
Bob Ferguson, Creative Alliances & Music Outreach Project Manager
This September I was lucky enough to attend a music industry panel in Nashville on musical reflection, creative inspiration, and a guided meditation led by Valerie June, and since then I’ve used her music and poetry to rescue me from any doldrums I need to escape from. Her “Call Me A Fool” (featuring Carla Thomas) is better than any doctor’s prescription.