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'Medicating With Music': How One Tiny Desk Contest Entrant Heals Through Song

Meaghan Maples, aka Mama Haze, was one of the standout artists in the 2020 Tiny Desk Contest.
Meaghan Maples, aka Mama Haze, was one of the standout artists in the 2020 Tiny Desk Contest.

This year, many people have been turning to music for catharsis, but Mama Haze, aka songwriter Meaghan Maples, has been tapping into music's healing powers for a long time. Before pursuing music full-time, the Oakland, Calif.-based artist was a doula and caregiver, often prescribing music as an antidote to patients' pain.

"Music does heal, as corny as it sounds; it really does make a difference," she tells Weekend Edition. "I think it's a really powerful outlet that all children and families need to have at their disposal."

Maples' song "On Your Side" was a standout entry in the 2020 Tiny Desk Contest, earning her a spot in the very first episode of Tiny Desk Contest Top Shelf. She says the song was written during a time of healing — as she describes it, "medicating with music" — after undergoing a medical procedure.

While mending from surgery, Maples invited some friends to bunker down with her. "I had some friends fly out," she says. "They came and hung out with me the first week after surgery. We just stayed inside and cooked meals and wrote songs and took my mind off the pain." Maples says it actually worked. It was during this week of recovery that she wrote "On Your Side," a stripped-down song that strays from Mama Haze's typically upbeat discography.

Listening back to the entry after several months in lockdown, Maples tears up. "I miss live music so much," she says. "[This has] probably been the longest time in my life that I've gone without playing a show or going to a real show."

Maples says the entry video captures some of the energy that only happens in live music performances. "It reminds me of those moments that aren't planned, because in the studio, it's not really like that," she says. "You need a live setting to get that raw, good gritty stuff."

Instead, these days, Maples is watching recordings of live music on Verzuz TV. She says the song-for-song battles with R&B and hip-hop greats, hosted Instagram live, have inspired her to revisit unfinished work from her own catalog. And "On Your Side" has motivated Maples to embark on a whole new musical journey; she says she's going to navigate this turbulent time by starting a new musical project under the name Meaghan Maples. "There's a bit of a cocooning that's happened because of this song," she says. "It's less pop and it's less noisy, but there's something really special and raw about it. It's actually caused me to start this whole other project under my government name. ... It's been a rebirth."

Listen to the full aired story in the audio player above.

Elle Mannion contributed to the digital version of this story.

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