Your cart

Shipping and discount codes are added at checkout.

Finding agency in the [classical] arts - Arjuna Oakes
The second instalment of a three part series by Leah Thomas

Far from home: Catching up with Arjuna Oakes 

Arjuna Oakes is a New Zealand-born, London-based singer/songwriter, pianist, composer and producer. Arjuna is a deeply collaborative artist with several incredible original records (“The Watcher”, “First Nights”. “Final Days”, “Future Lullaby”). He has written in a range of styles including R&B, soul, classical and jazz. In 2023, Arjuna left the shores of Aotearoa to record an EP in Greece with collaborator John Psathas (“Sierra”) and relocated to the lively creative hub of London.

Arjuna is a close friend so we recently caught up on his adventures far from home.

Leah: I thought it would be cool to talk about your first six months in London! Because it's so relatable for people who are thinking about moving and there might be people who are curious and don’t know you well enough to message you on Instagram and say “how is it!” What have you learnt about yourself, your sound and music-making since moving to London?

Arjuna: I left New Zealand six months ago, but I’ve only really been in London for four months. I feel very lucky to feel this settled already, most people tell me that it takes a year and a half to be settled in a new place. 

I’ve learnt that there isn’t such a big distinction between genres and styles, it’s really just what you gravitate towards. I’ve always tried to not think about genre and style, and just work with musicians across the board. Jazz musicians, classical, pop rock. The common word is music and people trying to express themselves. There has been a fluidity with creatives here that is very freeing. And its the same in New Zealand, its just bigger here. It’s happening more in plain sight.

Leah: So do you think because the numbers are bigger there is more room for experimenting? 

Arjuna: Yeah, there are more opportunities here. New Zealand is great because you’re in an incubator, separate from the rest of the world and free to do what you want. There’s more pressure and competition in an industry sense here, but in the music community not at all. People are very open to gigs and doing things. 

Leah: How was your first gig in London?

 Arjuna: It was great thank you! It took place on the 2nd November at the Servant Jazz Quarters, which is actually really close to where I live. We sold it out! I would say there were a lot of kiwis there. I asked the crowd and at least half put up their hands. And they were all on one side of the room.

Leah: Haha of course because they probably all knew each other.

Arjuna: Yeah and heard the accents and gravitated towards it. I asked why they were all on that side of the room and someone yelled, because it's closer to the bar!

Leah: What felt different about your gig in London versus your leaving gig in New Zealand? 

Arjuna: It felt very focused, not that gigs in New Zealand weren’t focused - they felt more like a party. Everyone was very quiet and respectful here. It felt like an introduction. This is the first time I could show off my music live, this is me introducing myself to the scene. It felt very special. 

Leah: How are you finding creative community in London? What are you doing to find people to collaborate with? 

Arjuna: London has so many jams happening. If you go to the jam and play a tune or just talk to people you will meet people. I’ve met lots of people just by doing that. 

I was also really lucky. I made a friend - a DJ - who opened my first show and introduced me to a lot of people. I did a radio show in Soho who introduced me to people. It’s like a tree sprouting different branches. The more people you meet, the more they are going to introduce you to other people. Literally all I am doing is getting out all the time, going to jams, going to see gigs with people. 

I’ve been very fortunate to play a gig at 91 Living room. They are a staple in the London jazz scene. There’s a lot of history there. There’s a community around venues here. One thing that’s really cool here is the collectives that host regular nights at different venues. They have a strong brand and every week they put on a gig - often an up-and-coming artist, but they also “secret shows” with total legends. There is a huge culture of placemakers here, community led projects that people go to even if they don’t know the music because they know it's going to be good. 

All the gigs I have been going to in London have been an education. I get my mind blown, seeing new music being played differently. If you have that every week, you essentially get a regular masterclass. 

Leah: How was it releasing your music outside of New Zealand? This was your first project outside of NZ?

Arjuna: It was such an interesting experience! We recorded it in Greece. It’s been an international project overall. Recorded and released overseas, which has been new to me. I’ve been making friends with DJs and placemakers, and because I am around, I’m meeting people face to face. Without a huge amount of work pushing it, it's found an audience because I’m here meeting people and making friends. China Moses’ played it on Jazz FM which was really cool. 

When I arrived in London, I messaged everyone who had played my music on a radio show that I would love to meet them. It's that idea that people need to see a name seven times for it to stick, but for me it's also about community. Reaching out to artists who I respect and admire to work with them, which is more important than getting the streams. It's about finding collaboration. 

Leah: What are your goals for the next six months? What are you hoping to achieve? 

Arjuna: I’m going to start working with an independent label here to release my record slowly. One of my goals is to work with more independent musicians here, get some more shows in the hopes of playing some festivals or bigger shows in the future. I want to feel like I am part of the scene, I don’t want to just be a Kiwi in London, but feel like a local.

Leah: What would you recommend other kiwis to check out when in London? We’ve mentioned 91 Living Room, are there other spots not to be missed?

Arjuna: My recommendation would be to just get out to the nightlife as much as you can. Go to jams, go see your favourite artists, go see artists you’ve never heard of. There is always something really cool happening, and you never know who you are going to meet. If you are going to move to a big city you have to go out lots. 91 Living Room in Shoreditch, NT’s Loft, lots of great spots in the North East where I live. Record stores that host DJ’s at night like the BBE Store. 

Love Arjuna as much as I do? Of course you do! Check out his most recent release with collaborator John Psathas here