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5 Badass Podcasts to Lift You Up When It’s All Too Much

The unexpected coup of audio is here. Podcasts have taken over, with a popularity spike in recent years that Olly Mann, quoted in this BBC article, attributes to something in specific:

“What distinguishes radio from TV is the intimacy. What distinguishes a podcast from radio is that it’s intimacy plus, because you’ve chosen it and it’s literally in your ears,”

Intimacy is not the only reason; podcasts are a delight for the easily diverted generation. They play into the culture of busyness, and yet, in my opinion, help you feel more present even while you think you are detaching from the task at hand. Yes, you can (and do) listen to them while you clean, drive, walk, cook, exercise, and bathe. You listen in bed with your covers over your head. And, right there, alone in your home, in your room, or on your street, you are brought back to feeling connected, alive, and on intimate terms with the world.

It’s this intimacy that kicked me head first into the deep-end of podcast listening, right at the beginning of the pandemic. I started with a podcast staple: This American Life . If you haven’t indulged, I’d really, really, really encourage you to dip your toe into their captivating, rich, unexpected storytelling. The first episode I heard made me laugh and cry. It reminded me that we are beautiful. It is not really about ‘Americans’, as much as it is about the magical things that make us human, and the human things that make us magical. It elevates the mundane, and the hidden details of people’s lives. It’s about the power of storytelling. The power of people’s stories, to get us through the hardest moments.

I believe all the podcasts below open you up to people, to new ideas, to the world around you. They have conversations, tell stories, and help you learn to listen. In many ways, I also think they help you feel heard, and held, and loved. At least, they did that for me, and I hope they do a little bit of that for you too. .

So here we go.

1. Sarde After Dinner Podcast

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A podcast I came across as I was researching the Lebanese transforming how we talk about sex in the Middle East, Sarde After Dinner is “…a free space based out of the heart of Beirut, Lebanon, where Médéa Azouri & Mouin Jaber discuss a wide range of topics (usually) held behind closed doors in an open and simple way with guests from all walks of life.” Episodes include discussions of ‘The New Abnormal’, ‘Youth, Politics, & Immigration’, ‘Sex & the Middle East (with Sandrine Atallah)’, ‘The Police State, Cannabis Law, & LGBTQ Rights in Lebanon’, and so much more. Their conversations with guests are animated, frank, relatable, passionate. Whether you agree or disagree with the ideas or threads of thought, you feel like you’re sitting across the table from people who really care about Lebanese civil society, about history, the future, and big ideas.

“Sarde (noun), [Sa-r-de]: A colloquial term used in the Middle East to describe the act of letting go & kicking off a stream of consciousness and a rambling narrative.

Every portal to watching, listening to, and following the podcast is on their website right here.

2. On Being With Krista Tippett

Photo Credit: Chris Daniels and On Being

Krista Tippett carries many accolades; but her status as Best-selling author, Peabody Award Winner, and Yale graduate are less the reasons to listen to her speak than a reflection of her underlying wisdom, curiosity, and warmth. Her approach in the podcast, On Being, showcases those qualities in spades, alongside a wonderful capacity to navigate complex and uncertain conversations, and to stay humble and open to change. On Being explores:

“the intersection of spiritual inquiry, science, social healing, community, poetry, and the arts. We’re offering ongoing special content for this moment, including conversations about race and healing, “care packages” for caregivers and uncertain times, and a new way to experience poetry.”

A PodParadise review calls On Being ‘perfection’, and Krista Tippett their ‘imaginary best friend’. She can be your imaginary best friend too. You can listen to her podcast on her website and most places that you can listen to podcasts: Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Soundcloud, and more. You know the drill, but here are places for more info, and delight.


3. Afikra Podcast

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The title in their website picture above kind of says it all. Afikra is designed to be ‘a communal exploration of arab culture’. Whatever that doesn’t say, their name says the rest of it: “a’fikra (عفكرة or 3afikra)” meaning “on second thought” or “come to think of it” in colloquial Levantine Arabic”. Before the podcast developed, Afikra formed in 2014 as a Salon (curated gathering) in NYC to quench Mikey Muhanna’s thirst for a community that explores Arab history and culture beyond ‘cultural celebrations’ or activism. Intellectual curiosity about the history and culture of the Arab world was the centrepoint, and the need for this became abundantly clear as young Arabs would fly in from different places in the world to attend and participate.

And then we have the podcast, which is an audio recorded, intimate dialogue that reflects all the original intellectual intentions of Afikra, offering a globally accessible platform for learning and understanding. Conversations are with academics, artists, and entrepreneurs of varied specializations: historians, poets, designers, art critics, ethnomusicologists, filmmakers, social transformers, and more.

Check out the podcast and avenues to follow them right here.

4. BBC Earth Podcast

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If you like BBC Earth documentaries, the podcast captures the same magic but in an audio format and it’s exactly as wonderful as you’d think it would be. I can easily call it ‘a podcast that connects you to nature’, and yet somehow that undersells what it does. The presenter Emily Knight immerses you in stories that are visceral, transformative, transporting experiences. The podcast catchphrase captures it: ‘Close Your Eyes and Open Your Ears’. Here is its official podcast preview:

BBC Earth’s podcast is everything you’d expect – a blend of nature, science and human experience, with world-class story telling and immersive soundscapes. We’ll also bring you insights and stories from the BBC’s crews as they make some of the most impactful television on the planet. Expect a dose of fascinating science, ecological insight and explanations of why the world – in its infinite variety – is as we find it. From the deepest caves in the world to the very edge of space the BBC Earth podcast transports you on an awe-inspiring journey in sound.

Here are some little sample snippets for you:

5. Kerning Cultures

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Maybe you’ve already heard of Kerning Cultures? When I discovered them, it felt like I’d just crawled out from under a rock, since they’d already been recognized by some of the giants of podcasting. Called “This American Life of the Middle East” by the Guardian, and awarded a Webby Honoree for Diversity and Inclusion, Kerning Cultures focuses on telling “…the kinds of stories in which we can actually see ourselves. Because we love stories – really good stories, and there are so many from our region just waiting to be told”.

Kerning Cultures was founded in 2015 and is actually not only a unique podcast of its own, focused on immersive varied stories from across the Middle East, but also “…the first venture-funded podcast company in the Middle East” offering up a number of ‘…award-winning immersive Arabic and English podcasts for curious listeners’. It’s also female-led. Interested in checking out that range of Arabic and English podcasts? Here you go.

And in case you were wondering what ‘Kerning’ meant, their About Us section graciously obliges:

““Kerning” is a process in typography: the sizing of spaces between letters in a font, so that the font can be easily read and aesthetically pleasing. We love the metaphor of cultures kerning through our stories. Poetic, no?”

Want to know that the latest season of Kerning Cultures has to offer? I’ve got you:

You can discover more about Kerning Cultures including where to follow them and how to listen right here on their website.

Before we go, I’d like to make an honorary mention to Fasleh, the podcast arm of Mashrou Alef who made an appearance in my last blog: 4 Spaces Transforming How Women Talk About Sex in Lebanon. This is a Lebanese podcast you shouldn’t sleep on. It explores issues around body politics, gender, and sexuality in ways that deeply challenge the entrenched status quo. It creates space, representation, education, and a sense of safety for women and the LGBTQ community. Check out their podcast pilot to get a taste of who they are and what their conversations can offer.

That’s all folks! Thanks for indulging my love affair with these podcasts. I hope you fall in love too. Got a favorite local or international podcast you think should make a future line up? Let us know in the comments! Got thoughts or opinions on the ones I listed? Let us know in the comments too! Our favorite thing is hearing from you.

Featured photo: Illustration Artist Unknown. Image Source: