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Melissa James: Women Rising Together for ‘Sounds Like London‘

A guest post from Melissa James on her event ‘And Still We Rise’ – which was organised in collaboration with the MU – and the women who raised their voices alongside her.

A guest post from Melissa James on her event ‘And Still We Rise’ – which was organised in collaboration with the MU – and the women who raised their voices alongside her.

“This month has been alive with concerts and events displayed under the banner of ‘Sounds Like London’, a festival launched by the Mayor of London in support of grassroots venues and music. The aim is to highlight the importance of such venues – large and small – and to encourage us as Londoners to make use of these spaces which are invaluable to new, emerging talent and more established artists, in nurturing and growing their craft and gaining exposure to their music.

On being introduced to the Festival's concept, I was keen to be involved. The key theme for this year, given the centenary of women's suffrage, was the celebration of women's music. My event, ‘And Still We Rise’ – organised in collaboration with the Musicians' Union – was therefore to recognise the music and voices of a selection of women artists held at Bethnal Green's arts centre, Rich Mix.

Joining me as part of the line-up was a cappella singer Juliet Russell whose use of a drone in her set was hauntingly beautiful and mesmerising.

Singer, songwriter and guitarist Nadia Sheikh featured as part of a project called ‘Sounds Like Women’. Bearing no relation to ‘Sounds Like London’, this Project is the brainchild of Polish composer Luiza Staniec, whose intent is to use music to tackle domestic violence, inequality and racial bias against women. In a compelling performance with Staniec at the piano, Sheikh sang the song ‘Speak to Me’ which is to feature on the ‘Sounds Like Women’ album release.

As well as being a singer and songwriter, Amrit Kaur Lohia is a social entrepreneur and mentor, but brought her music – drawing on Punjabi folk, R&B and soul influences – to ‘And Still We Rise’ by way of the Sarangi. A short-necked stringed instrument, traditional in India, Nepal and Pakistan. On stage, Kaur Lohia delivered a powerful performance intertwining stories of human rights with her songs which engaged and moved those fortunate to be among the audience.

Delightfully gracing the Rich Mix performance space alongside my musicians and me, were a few brave women who had earlier that day attended the women's singing workshop I facilitated at the Brady Arts Community Centre, also in Bethnal Green.

Together our voices supported one another as we sang 'I Remember, I Believe', a song written by Dr Bernice Johnson Reagon, the founder of the all Black female a cappella vocal group ‘Sweet Honey in the Rock’. Formed in Washington DC in 1964, this group used collective singing to unify disparate groups during the Freedom Summer protests in the southern states of America.

Together, we all raised our voices in the name of ‘Sounds Like London’. And we sang in the name of our rights, as women, to express via our music. In the process we hopefully lifted a few hearts too.

And all the while we briefly shone a light of appreciation on the Women's Therapy Centre for the good work of this London-based charity in providing therapy to many vulnerable women at a desperate time of need, having likely suffered severe trauma and abuse. A small donation of ticket sale profits from the concert's takings are to be rightly given to its cause."

Published: 28/06/2018

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