"Music is a world within itself, with a language we all understand."
2020 presented many challenges, not least the increase in isolation for young people already very much alone. But it also brought opportunities and the chance to think creatively about how to respond to the ever-changing situation.
One of the challenges that often presents itself is how to connect displaced young people with their new community. Separate ESOL classes, and the lack of family networks makes it hard to find avenues to meet and mix with local people of the same age.
We had been mulling this over for a while with our friends and partners at Surrey Arts, and two points became quite clear. Firstly, music is a great connector and connection was something we all needed after months of lockdowns and distancing. And secondly, since music is a language by itself, maybe we could stop thinking about linguistic and cultural barriers and see these differences as a bridge instead.
And so we created a new songwriting project bringing displaced and local teenagers together through a series of online sessions, culminating in a recording day at the Academy for Contemporary Music in Guildford.
You can listen to the final song now on on iTunes, Spotify or SoundCloud or read on below to find out more about this project >
We absolutely didn’t want this to be a project where one group came to “help” the other. We wanted to create equal footing from the start by discarding labels and embracing the seven different languages and the range of musical tastes and experiences within the group. We wanted to acknowledge the diversity and the commonality – and there was so much of both.
Together, and with support from The National Lottery Community Fund, the team ran a series of online workshops focused around songwriting, performing and recording.
The first few sessions were all about building a sense of trust and community to create the sense of interconnection. Sharing favourite songs and examples of music and instruments from around the world cut through any shyness and feelings of self-consciousness in a group who’d never met before. Liz, Orli and Richard have so much experience in the field, which they blend with such compassion, creativity and sensitivity to everyone, that the sense of teamship was soon palpable.
And we had two professional musicians on board too. Singer-songwriter Chesney Hawkes joined us from his studio in LA, bringing his years of industry experience and a sense of warmth for everyone there which flooded from the screen. And our rapper - dj - producer Chimpo brought all his incredible array of talents across the board to each session, and didn’t stop smiling once. “Everyone is so kind to me” R told us after session 2, “...they all feel like my friends”.
With this atmosphere of trust and friendship, the actual writing of the song evolved naturally. We spoke of how the pandemic had brought us all together in a shared experience that has at times been difficult, lonely and anxious. From this came the idea to write about a different place – a place that is beautiful, peaceful and safe, and most importantly, somewhere you will not be alone. This also gave space to talk about other things - worries, identities, friendship and love - subjects everyone could recognise. And “remember who you are”, important for everyone, no matter what, became a leitmotif of the song.
The track is now ready and we will launch it this weekend. And this incredible song, with all its showcase of talent, collaboration and inspiration, speaks more loudly and eloquently about the project than anything we could say.
With huge thanks to the National Lottery Community Fund for funding our Music Connects project, and to ACM, Chimpo, Chesney Hawkes, the brilliant Surrey Arts team and Ghaith, Rami and Raghad, our volunteer translators.
“It’s helped me gain so much more confidence, it’s such an amazing experience... it’s been absolutely amazing getting to know all of these different people that I otherwise probably would never have met.”
Music Connects participant
Check out our annual review for more about the Music Connects projects and to see what else we’ve been up to.
You can listen to the track from phase one now. Remember Who You Are was written and performed by young people during phase one of the Music Connects programme and is now available to stream on iTunes, Spotify or SoundCloud.