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Disability History Month: Lizzie Emeh & Heart n Soul

Lizzie Emeh shares her experience working with Heart n Soul, a creative arts charity in South London that believes in the talents and power of people with learning disabilities.

Lizzie Emeh performing

UK Disability History Month celebrates the lives of disabled people, challenges disablism and pushes forward the fight for equality. This year, it takes place from 22 November to 22 December. Over the month, we will be sharing some examples of best practice from across the music industry.

This week we hear from Lizzie Emeh, an award-winning singer with Heart n Soul, a creative arts charity in South London that believes in the talents and power of people with learning disabilities…

I had heard about Heart n Soul and thought it sounded brilliant, but the first time I had contact with them was in 1999 when I went to one of their big events, The Beautiful Octopus Club.

The first time I walked through those magical doors was the first time I felt like I didn’t have a disability at all. That night I sang on stage for the first time in my life – Tracey Chapman’s ‘Talkin’ Bout a Revolution’ – in their open mic spot.

Mark Williams, who I would later know well as the founder of Heart n Soul, was waiting at the bottom of the stage to introduce himself afterwards – he had spotted a talent in me straight away.

Mark said, “what you’ve just done up there… it was amazing” and asked me if I would like to be one of Heart n Soul’s artists. At first I didn’t think he was talking to me, but he said “yes, you” and I thought, OK, I’ll give it a go. I auditioned and then the rest is history!

Since then Heart n Soul has co-produced my albums. I was on the news when I became the first solo artist with a learning disability to release an album in the UK back in 2009, I felt so proud.

They’ve got a way of building confidence in people, which is very special. They also give me advice, arrange vocal training and coordinate my gigs.

One of the highlights of my career so far was performing in 2012 with Beverly Knight at the London Paralympic Games opening ceremony.

I’ve performed all over the place with Heart n Soul – at Glastonbury, in Asia, Europe and around the UK to thousands of people. I’ve also won two national awards for my achievements in music. So when I am asked if I still have ambitions to win a MOBO award, I say no. My goal now is to make a change in people’s lives. If I can give people a voice, that’s my job done.

People say to me that I’m here for a reason, and that reason is my voice. They say, whatever you do, don’t be quiet about your disability or about the fact that things have to change.

I used to have no confidence and think that my learning disability would hold me back, but I don’t think like that now. I have made a craft and a success out of my talents and I know the music industry has got the space for me.

This year Heart n Soul is 30 and they are putting together an archive of 30 stories from the artists and other people they have worked with over the years, including my story. I hope that when people hear us they will be inspired by what people with learning disabilities can do. We need to push boundaries and educate people, so that musicians, artists and anyone with a learning disability won’t hide away or feel like their disability will hold them back.

About Heart n Soul

Heart n Soul is an award-winning creative arts company and charity. They believe in the talents and power of people with learning disabilities, providing opportunities for people to discover, develop and share this power and talent as widely as possible.

The Big 30 Archive of Heart n Soul stories will be made into an installation for the public and displayed as part of a festival of events in July 2017. The stories will be added to the London Metropolitan Archives and be free for everyone to listen to.

Published: 15/12/2016

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