Arts Council North

GemArts East by North East – Syrian Kings Case Study (Nov 2019)

Ahmad (19) and Hussein (18) had been in Gateshead less than one year when they began making music on ‘Dispersed Belongings’ a project delivered by Gem Arts in collaboration with Durham University and Gateshead Council Resettlement Team. Our initial sessions were based around the concept of belonging, identity and feelings of home. The young men had no previous experience of music making and we were working with an interpreter during those first few months together, exploring band work, lyric writing and percussion with GemArts music leaders Izzy and Pav.

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Ahmad and Hussein were progressed on to GemArts East by North East project (funded by Youth Music) and found that they shared an interest in hip hop, and both felt passionately that music could be a powerful tool of communicating their lived experiences of the war in Syria, forced migration, love, and lost love. They continued working with music leaders Pav and Izzy, and soon began writing lyrics together and bringing new material to each session along with musical references and songs that would later inspire beats that they would create during the sessions using Logic Pro and a MIDI keyboard. Their lyrics are often in Arabic and sometimes fused with English but always reference their real, lived experiences.

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During autumn 2018, internationally acclaimed artist/anti-war activist/Iraq war army veteran Aaron Hughes was selected to receive The Baltic Artist Award at The Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art. Aaron’s art focuses on the traumas of war, displacement and human connection despite pain. Aaron was interested in collaborating with local people who’ve similar experiences and was put in touch with GemArts to learn more about the creative work involving resettled Syrian youth living in Gateshead. The plan was to reimagine Wilfred Owen’s War Requiem alongside several award winning poets and music maestro, Karim Wasfi. This was an ambitious project for all of us and the beginning of The Syrian Kings journey.

Although there are 13 young people who attend our music session regularly, Ahmad and Hussein are consistently keen to create new material and up until recently they were the only two in the group who considered themselves lyricists. In winter 2018 they worked hard demonstrating determination and discipline to create two pieces ‘Doomed Youth’ and ‘Permanent Stars’ for the performance with Aaron at the Baltic and decided to call their musical duo The Syrian Kings.

During the process of creating lyrics, tracks and raps for Permanent Stars in response to Wilfred Owens’s poem ‘But I was Looking at The Permanent Stars’ the group talked about what bugles represented in the war, how they were mournful and often associated with the death of soldiers. They discussed what could be used as an equivalent sound in Syria and asked the group if there was a similar instrument. They told us the sounds of ambulance sirens, radio signal, shattered glass and bombs were all the sounds the associated with the sadness and trauma of war in Syria. These sounds can all be heard throughout our track (the explosion sound became a useful tool for us to mark every 8 bars for rap verses).

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Credit and Copyright ©: Colin Davison

The group resonated with the lines in the poem “Voices of boys were by the river-side. Sleep mothered them; and left the twilight sad” and have echoed this with lyrics in Arabic about ships that were supposed to keep people safe but did not, and left bodies of children on the shore.

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Credit and Copyright ©: Colin Davison

Collaborating with international artists for their first performance was challenging and the thought of performing with people who you’ve never met is a daunting prospect for any musician but they worked hard and the performance was a huge success.

Aaron Hughes said on working with The Syrian Kings “Ahmad and Hussein had brilliantly related their experiences to Owen’s poems. Connecting the political situation in Syria and the lack of responsibility for the war to the needless violence of World War One. One section addressed their feelings of displacement, “ I already feel like I’ve lost my place, my hometown is gone without a trace, looking for something I can’t replace…” However, unlike Owen’s poems, Ahmed and Hussein expressed a bit of hope and determination “I’m never going back, I’m here to stay got to keep trying to find another way.”

The opportunity to connect two emerging artists with internationally recognised artists was invaluable and raised the aspirations and self-esteem of The Syrian Kings. They were treated as professional artists throughout the process and experienced the empowerment of collective creative endeavour.

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Credit and Copyright ©: Colin Davison

This year, The Syrian Kings have been invited to perform at multiple hiphop and spoken word events and continued to write, record and perform original material, spreading their message and raising awareness of the political situation in Syria. Hussein and Ahmad are powerful role models and nurture and encourage other young people in our music session to write and create songs that are important to them.

“I am here because I have a message. It is my responsibility to tell people what is happening in my country. I have freedom to say whatever I want and I need to use this. Syria is a beautiful place and the words come from the heart, I know that I will always want to write lyrics and make music, it is something I will carry with me my whole life now.” Hussein

 

Co-authored by Izzy Finch and Vikas Kumar

GemArts East by North East – Blog by music leader Izzy Finch (Nov 2018)

Here is a blog by Izzy Finch, who is one of our music leaders on GemArts’ Youth Music funded East by North East music project.  Izzy gives fantastic insight into working with young people from Syrian communities living in Gateshead to develop their musical and life skills, whilst providing a safe space for young people’s voices to be heard, develop leadership skills and for them to be empowered.   

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As project musicians, Pav and I first developed a relationship with members of this group when they had been in Gateshead less than one year whilst working on GemArts’ Dispersed Belongings project in collaboration with Durham University. Our initial sessions were based around the concept of belonging, identity and feelings of home. The participants had no previous experience of music making and we were working with an interpreter. During those early sessions we talked a lot about identity and I realised that there is a complexity of emotions surrounding belonging for most of the participants as there have been interim homes between Syria and Gateshead. Working on this project has changed my perception of not only belonging, home, identity but the value of music as a tool for discussion.

I am comfortable knowing that over time we created an environment where the participants developed trust and were invested enough to talk in depth about their aspirations for the project and were given a platform to write songs about things that were important to them. I think sometimes there is a fear when working as a music practitioner with marginalised communities that our own agenda/ expectations will interfere with the creative hopes and dreams of young people. We were careful to navigate a balance between guiding and leading, making sure participants were not exploited with the content of what they write about.

One of the first songs the group wrote is titled Syria. The lyrics to the song describe the country as their mother and Aleppo as their blood. It is a love letter to Syria. In the very beginning when we first started working together I facilitated an exercise where participants would describe colours, sounds, sights and smells of home or a significant memory. The group seemed unsure at first but soon everyone was writing in Arabic and absorbed in the task. I hadn’t prepared myself for how emotionally raw the content would be having elicited those feelings. I realised afterwards that I had expected the content to be about dislocated items or events but instead we uncovered that there is still a strong and prevalent sense of belonging to Syria and that this is something that the young people want to share and write about. One member said “I want to deliver a message to the people here about the situation in Syria” and continues to bring new lyrics in each week exploring this.

Sometimes a song idea will begin with a young person showing the group a song they like and we will begin talking about what aspects of that we like and what we will use as inspiration to create an original piece. For one song, we used Eminem- Stan as inspiration, and sampled the sound of rain to evoke emotion and used the structure of Eminem’s hit as a template with Arabic verses poetically describing a lost love and a chorus in English featuring female vocals working as a call and response.

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Our session structure changes depending on the ideas of the young people. Sometimes we all have an instrument and work as a band collectively, and other times we will use a MIDI controller and laptop to make electronic beats that vocalists want to put lyrics and a melody to. Within the current group, there are multiple song writers and the participants are self-motivated when it comes to organising their time within the session. For example, if we worked on one member’s song the previous week, they will talk amongst themselves and decide fairly that it is someone else’s turn to have their song rehearsed. New members are always welcomed and encouraged by the group to suggest ideas or lead a rehearsal. Lyrics are often in Arabic and sometimes have an English chorus with themes around the war in Syria, politics, nostalgia, love, lost love and friendship.

This year the core group are brimming with confidence and creativity. The sessions are very much participant led and we are preparing for a performance in a few months and introducing Arts Award. The group enjoy sharing and communicating their ideas in English, we rarely use the interpreter although sometimes we need one to translate lyrics and help with meaning but I l love that Arabic lyrics are a constant thread in everything we create. If new members come along and are struggling to speak English or understand what we are doing, the group enjoy interpreting and helping each other articulate their ideas.

It is a pleasure to be able to work with these young people and help them achieve self-belief and provide a creative outlet. I feel that this project has demonstrated the capacity Gem Arts have to meet the growing needs of marginalised groups within the North East.

East by North East is a Youth Music funded project led by GemArts. Building on the success of previous projects, during this third phase, we have expanded the prorgramme to provide more opportunities for professional musicians and young people living in challenging circumstances from BAMER and wider communities across Newcastle and Gateshead to work with one another, sustaining high quality music making regionally, and addressing community needs and issues.  A key element of the programme is to further diversify the music skills and workforce of music practitioners in the North East through offering CPD, training, peer to peer development and mentoring.

https://gemarts.org/projects/116/east-by-north-east

Merry Christmas

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Each year when I look back at the previous 12 months, I get a sense of awe at the achievements of our small (but mighty) team, and the wonderful artists, communities, volunteers and organisations GemArts has worked with. It’s also a time for me to consider how generous our donors, funders and audiences are, so thank you for supporting our work in so many ways.

Throughout 2017 we continued to do what we do best, showcasing the best and brightest artistic talent from the UK and abroad, championing creativity and diversity, and always ensuring artists received the support and profile they deserve. GemArts’ audiences were given access to unique cultural experiences, with people of all ages and backgrounds joining us in making exceptional music, dance and art, while developing new skills and building confidence along the way. Communities continue to face inequalities and challenges, but through our arts projects we have seen the people of the North East come together, to inspire and support each other, and celebrate diversity.

This year we strengthened relationships and developed new partnerships, increasing the reach and impact of GemArts work, for which we were recognised with awards and accolades. We’ve picked a few of our highlights from 2017, click on the red text to find out more about each, and I’m sure you will have your own favourites.

In February I will travel to London to collect my MBE for services to Arts and Culture – a huge honour and privilege! I personally feel this achievement recognises the collective efforts of everyone who has supported GemArts over the years. I am eternally grateful to you all.

On behalf of everyone at GemArts and GVEMSG, I would like to  thank you for your continued support, and wish you a very merry Christmas, and all the best for a happy, healthy and peaceful New Year.

Best wishes and see you in 2018.

Vikas Kumar, MBE
Director, GemArts

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Masala Festival – Following a Journal Culture Arts Council Award win, our week-long festival returned in July. Thousands of people joined us for a mix and blend of the very finest South Asian arts and culture, enjoying live musicexhibitionscooking demosspecial festival menusfamily fun daysworkshopspoetry readingstheatrefilm screenings and lots more. The festival returns on the 16th July 2018 packed with even more exceptional art!

GemArts Riverside Ragas – Presented the best of raag based music, accompanying concerts with informative pre concert talks, masterclasses and demonstrations. 2017’s Riverside Ragas featured; Guiliano Modarelli (Routes), Kobini Ananth and Yarlinie Thanabalasingham (An Inner Voice)Baluji ShrivastavRoopa Panesar and Bhupinder ChaggarDebasmita Bhattacharya and Gurdain Rayatt, and we’ve an incredible line up for Spring Summer 2018.

God and Mortals – Our first collaboration with Sunderland Stages was a stunning performance by an ensemble of the country’s finest Odissi dancers and musicians, staged within the breath-taking setting of Sunderland Minster.

Health and Wellbeing – To help tackle social isolation we worked with Gateshead Carers BME groups to create “arrival and survival” a showcase of art work representing Identity and Isolation. Members of GVEMSG’s Feel Good Group were also extremely busy creating unique glass, sharing skills, developing support networks and using new creative and enterprise skills to raise more than £358 for their project, meaning more women will benefit from the support and activities on offer. Read the Feel Good Group’s blog here.

East by North East – Our Youth Music funded project offered music making opportunities to over 190 young people each week throughout 2017. Watching young participants grow in their musical skills and confidence has been a real highlight of this project, and this would not have been possible without the strong team of committed, talented and awe inspiring music leaders and partners we have on board. Here’s to another two years!

Dispersed Belongings – From Syria to Gateshead explored belonging among refugee-background Syrian young people living in Gateshead, in partnership with Durham University and Gateshead Council. Young people participated in workshops with professional visual artists and musicians, and produced works that reflected their ideas and experiences. The project culminated in an event at BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, and a week-long exhibition in the Shipley Lounge as part of the national Platforma Festival.

GemArts Mini Melas – Between February and October we packed in a whopping FOUR Mini Melas, bringing free family arts activity to GatesheadNewcastleSouth Shields and Durham. In total over 1500 children and their families visited us at a Mini Mela in 2017, joining in arts activity from around the world, and some even completed Arts Award in a day (an incredible 101 young people achieved Arts Award through GemArts in 2017). Thanks to all the partners who provided a venue for or supported one of our Mini Melas this year.

 

Kathakali schools performance – 200 local primary school students had the unique opportunity to take part in workshops and watch the world renowned Kala Chethena Kathakali Company, perform in Gateshead. Pupils experienced the entrancing world of ancient Hindu storytelling through this sacred theatre art form with its striking visual imagery, ancient sign language, superb singing and movement.

Anti Hate Crime work – Continuing this award winning work with young people, pupils from Brandling Primary School, Gateshead worked on a creative writing project exploring the theme of “respect”, with artist Laura Degnan. Pupils developed reading and writing skills using creative storytelling techniques and film making. Members of Gateshead Muslim Centre young people’s group (age 6-15), used animation as a creative tool with artist Lesley anne Rose, discussing Hate Crime and how to report it. Learning story boarding and animation techniques, the young people created their very own animation which you can watch here.

Great North Run- Thanks to a grant we were able to purchase places in the GNR 2017. Not only did our runners (Anj, David, Jamie, Stuart and Tom) complete the worlds largest half marathon, they also totally smashed their fundraising targets, donating an impressive £2200 to our charity! All donations help GemArts deliver life enhancing arts projects, you can sign up to Run and Raise or simply contribute to GemArts here.
GemArts Spring Summer 2018 programme launches on Friday 19th January.
Follow this link www.gemarts.org to find out more. 

Images from top: Riverside Ragas Roopa Panesar by Anna Miller, The Gandharva Choir Masala Festival by Anna Miller, Mini Movers Masala Festival  by Anna Miller, Riverside Ragas Debasmita Bhattacharya by Anna Miller, Feel Good Group jewellery stall by Anna Miller,Gods and Mortals Sunderland Stages by Richard Kenworthy, From Syria to Gateshead My country is unforgettable by Mohamad, The Kala Chethena Kathakali CompanyRajasthan Heritage Brass Band Masala Festival by Anna Miller

 

Award win for GemArts Masala Festival

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Last night GemArts Masala Festival was named the winner of the Arts Council Award at The Journal Culture Awards. The full team (Vic, Alex, Jade and Sinead) attended the ceremony and were there to collect the beautiful award when Masala Festival was named winner at this year’s spectacular Journal Culture Awards inside Hexham Abbey.

GemArts Masala Festival Mini Mela Magic Fish crowd photo Anna Miller  Journal Culture Awards winner GemArts Masala Festival Monks of Majuli and students photo Anna Miller

This festival compliments and builds upon GemArts yearlong programme, to present a mix and blend of the finest South Asian Arts and Culture across the region over seven days. Speaking of the award Vikas Kumar, GemArts Director said “It’s fantastic for Masala Festival to be named winner of the Arts Council Award at the Culture Awards. This award helps GemArts celebrate the creative talents of artists from the region, across the UK, South Asia and beyond, and recognises the incredible support we receive from our participants, audiences, trustees, volunteers, sponsors, partners and local communities, to whom we are hugely grateful! It was a joy to collaborate, connect and celebrate with thousands of people from across the region at our first Masala Festival, and we can’t wait to do it all again between the 17th and 23rd July. We want to thank the Journal Culture Awards and Arts Council North for choosing us for this award, but also for their continued support and commitment to our work, and that of the other great nominees. We will continue to champion creativity and diversity at every level, supporting young and emerging artists, and offer people from all backgrounds and ages, community groups and schools, engaging opportunities to take part in our culturally rich and diverse arts offer.”

Last year Masala Festival offered a truly eclectic programme, spanning traditional and contemporary South Asian arts, including award winning poets, a curated evening of film shinning a light on South Asian LGBT lives, rare Sattriya dance by Monks from Majuli; Indian epics retold for children, Indian classical and Brass Band collaborations, World music jazz fusion bands, exhibitions exploring Turban culture, incredible workshops, talks and demonstrations, culminating with a spectacular family fun day on NewcastleGateshead Quayside.

GemArts is really excited for 2017 as this year’s Masala Festival (17th-23rd July) will be even more ambitious, and building on our award success we’re looking forward to collaborating with venue partners, places and spaces, commissioning new work and presenting internationally significant South Asian artists and art forms. The programme is packed with critically acclaimed award winning poets (Daljit Nagra), specially curated short film programmes (Changes), celebrations of Sikh music tradition and contributions to the First World War (Sacred Sounds), leading choirs from India (Gandharva Choir), innovative new theatre (No Dogs No Indians), Masala Festival takeovers (at Q Fest), Mini Mela family fun days, Indian storytelling for all ages (Henna), extremely talented musicians (Sarathy Korwar), South Asian film screenings, exhibitions, food events, fantastic workshops, talks, demos and lots more. Masala Festival offers a truly eclectic line up, spanning traditional, and contemporary South Asian arts forms from the regiona, across the UK and South Asia!

Sarathy Korway by Fabrice Bourgelle4 BANNER   Peter Chand image of storybooks BANNER IMG_0986 BANNER

GemArts’ year round programme offers audiences something truly unique, and in the 70th Year of India and Pakistan’s Independence, GemArts Masala Festival brings to the North East the spirit, spice and vibrancy synonymous with the Indian subcontinent, and now an important part of British culture.

Details of events and full programme coming soon, to find out more and keep up to date visit www.gemarts.org.