14 Oct 2017

Jordan Rakei beat his struggle with anxiety by making music

From RNZ Music, 2:00 pm on 14 October 2017

Jordan Rakei was born in Tokoroa and raised in Brisbane, but moved to London in his early twenties to combat a lifelong struggle with anxiety. Now twenty five, he's signed to prestigious label Ninja Tune, and has released his second album Wallflower, which chronicles his struggle with mental illness.

Jordan Rakei

Jordan Rakei Photo: Hollie Fernando

The first thing you notice about Jordan Rakei’s music is his voice. It’s usually deployed as a smoky croon, but when he reaches into his upper register, there’s a clarity that rivals Jeff Buckley.

It might have been the voice that grabbed the attention of Ninja Tune, the iconic London label that signed Rakei. He’s not sure himself. “The story is that one of the guys from Ninja was in a café, and they were playing my first album “Cloak”. They Shazam-ed one of the tunes, and then were like ‘We’ve got to meet this guy!’”

Rakei’s music has excited plenty of people. It’s 21st century soul that branches off into more adventurous territory, championed by the likes of the BBC.


Born in Tokoroa, Rakei’s family relocated to Brisbane shortly after he was born. Piano lessons sparked an interest in music that led to creating songs in his bedroom with an MPC. He recorded Cloak in a similar solitary fashion, but on Wallflower embraced collaboration.

Working with other people was a big step Rakei. He’s suffered from anxiety all his life, moving to London three years ago as a form of exposure therapy.

“I kept myself in a bit of a bubble in Brisbane. I was in my room a lot making music. I’d never really go out. I released an EP, and it didn’t go as well as I wanted, so I thought, I’ve got to get out of here, I’ve got to try the other side of the world and see if they’re into it”.

As it turns out, they are. Rakei consistently sells out shows in the UK, plays the festival circuit in Europe, and has earned positive reviews for Wallflower.

“My life was flipped upside down, in a really good way. I was thrown in the deep end. Wallflower comments on how I struggled with anxiety my whole life, and moving to London, I had to meet new people.”


Another life-changing development was a growing interest in meditation. “It was amazing to train my mind to not judge the creative experience, and also not judge myself when I’m in social situations. As I was doing it more and more I was getting better at meeting new people, at remaining relaxed.

“It’s an amazing device to relax the brain, but also stimulate creativity”.

Wallflower’s cover depicts Rakei as a young child, holding an inside-out umbrella and looking distressed. “It encapsulates the concept perfectly. You can tell that from an early age the anxiety was beginning to take shape."

Wallflower cover art

Wallflower cover art Photo: supplied

"Wallflower symbolises me spending my whole life observing from the outside. Each track represents a different commentary based around that theme.”

Mental health might sound like an unusual topic for a soul record, but it colours Wallflower with varying shades of melancholy and optimism. When asked if song-writing is similar to therapy, Rakei responds “What’s weird is that I haven’t been able to talk about these concepts in person, because when dealing with anxiety it’s very hard to voice your opinion. But I’ll happily go on stage and sing about it to two thousand people”.





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