#40 Nadia Reid and Claire Cowan, Aotea Square

17 May 2017 

The Auckland Writers Festival has sprung the Heartland Room, looking noticeably much like the Speigeltent of many arts festivals. Tonight it's the venue for a conversation with, and performance by Nadia Reid.

Tama Waipara is the host, a fellow performer and longtime friend who describes Nadia as an electrifying, understated genius. And when she performs later in the show, it's clear that his praise is well deserved.

She speaks of many possible pathways that she strongly considered in life, including being a vet, a midwife and a teacher. "If music ends tomorrow, there are so many other things that I would happily do."

And yet music is her all, she has a quiet passion for her music and a deep gratitude for all that it brings. "Music got me through teenage and high school and to make a little bit of money. I had a guitar for about 10 years and it was like my dearest friend." It's also something that she holds dearly to, and doesn't share it lightly with other performers. "Writing is a very personal process, if there's anyone else in the house I cannot write."

At the end of the conversation Nadia performs three songs, all of which reveal quiet, almost contemplative songs with a rich quality to her voice, and a sweet vibrato that carries through all the pieces.

Over all too soon (but still within the rules), and the camera totally fails to deliver anything I would be happy to share. But she's touring in June and July, and will be one to mark up on the calendar.


After Nadia Reid's show, there's a pause for an hour before a team of writers read excerpts from David Eagleman's book Sum, a collection of engaging, disquieting and memorable depictions of the the afterlife. The assembled writers are Eagleman himself, Robert Webb, Neal Stephenson and Courtney Sina Meredith, who each bring their own personas into the recitation. 

But for all the literary and performance prowess, for me the real treat is having Claire Cowan, founder and composer for the Blackbird Ensemble, perform four solo pieces with a cello, looper and a few other creative materials. In keeping with the subject matter, each are dark, rhythmic and enthralling, and deserved the biggest cheer of the night. Webb, who followed one of her pieces, said "wow, that was incredible." Too bloody right.