A community arts initiative taps the talents of hundreds of young people across West London, says Michael Burnett
Some people think that because the club is in the middle of a largely black estate we're from deprived homes. But that's totally inaccurate. Most of us come from stable backgrounds and we're doing GCSEs and A-levels".
Seventeen-year-old singer Nke-chi Gaye articulates a problem she shares with other musicians at Bollo Brook youth centre on Ealing's South Acton Estate. The performing abilities, creativity, discipline and aspirations of these young people are of a high order. Yet how do they counteract the prejudiced assumptions they so commonly encounter?
The answer is partly at hand, because Gaye and her colleagues are participants in Miracles, a community arts initiative involving hundreds of young people from 10 west London boroughs. And one of the initiative's aims is, as organiser Paul Gladstone Reid says, "To bring together many different types of people, people who might have said: 'Never the twain should meet', in a common goal."
After a series of local events, Miracles will culminate in a concert at the Royal Albert Hall, where each borough's project will be showcased. The concert will conclude with the premiere of Reid's one-act opera, Miracles, accompanied by the London Musici orchestra under Mark Stephenson. The concert is being produced by London Musici, sponsored by Singer Fridlander and mounted in association with the Duke of Edinburgh's Award.
So the young musicians from the South Acton Estate will be in a position publicly to dispel some of the ignorance which surrounds them. But they have another difficulty to face in the response of others to their culture. "We're the children of the hip-hop culture," says Gaye. "Yet the perception of hip-hop is often poor because people switch off and don't listen to what we're saying."
"And what's special about this project is that the hip-hop is new and different," says Leonna Millwood. "Like the rapper Blac Ash. He's talking about God, about what's happening in London and about going to school."
"And African-Caribbean people know to listen to what the rappers are saying, " Gaye adds. "They concentrate, and they hear the depth and meaning of the words."
Blac Ash (Ashon Stennett's stage name) is in the group Illaphobia. What do they make of the Miracles project? "It's great because it gets young talent out and shows it to people," says Fog (Michael Coward). "It's helping us to make tracks and get known," says Blac Ash.
The members of Illaphobia are still at school, doing GCSEs, but have found musical resources there lacking. "They just don't have the proper equipment, " says Fog. "And some teachers put our music down," says Blac Ash. "They see the language as a problem because they think it's ghetto and we don't sing the words properly."
Project leader Reid thinks such teachers lack social and cultural awareness. "We're talking about the African-Caribbean and African-American legacies here, and the fact that music doesn't have to be Western classical in style to be art. What matters is cultural experience. If people aspire high, if they wish to express their joy, sorrow, anger, then the sound has to be aligned to their experience. And if there's raw talent there, of whatever kind, then it's our job to nurture it, to develop excellence through instilling discipline. "
Chuks Odiwe is one of the vocalists with Ideal, a group involved in the Miracles project in Brent. And he echoes Reid's words. "You have to discipline yourself to achieve a good performance," he says.
The project is being mounted tonight at Preston Manor High School, Wembley. And Ideal are about to perform with the Miracles Band and rapper Lorenzo. "The vibes are really wonderful," says Odiwe. "Being in the project I've learned to express myself differently. And working with a live band, compared to using backing tracks, gives you versatility."
The combined performance offers an interesting, well integrated collage of soul, rap and hip-hop, although Ideal's harmonies are restricted because they only have one vocalist for much of the set. Another group in the project, Abstracts, sing unaccompanied vocal numbers with real panache. Here are two young women with instinctive musical rapport whose abilities point to a promising future given professional guidance.
And the focus of Brent's Miracles project is a dance involving more than 25 young people, Life after the Middle Passage. "It's been good for me to experience so many different styles of dancing," says participant Jane Claridge. "Some people do clubbing, others ballet or jazz. And that's what the project's about, bringing together different styles of dance and music, and different people, in a positive way."
Miracles project: April 17, Acton Town Hall, from 6pm (tickets 0181 567 5436); April 18, Kensington Town Hall, 8pm (entry free: reservations 0171 221 9248). Miracles concert: April 24, Royal Albert Hall, 7.30pm (tickets 0171 589 8212)