Music of Black Origin with UP! Orchestra by Jim Pinchen
Orchestra of Unlimited Potential (UP!) - Music of Black Origin project (MOBO) Individual Case Study for Youth Music – Liz Ikamba - March 2021
Brief project overview The MOBO project ran online over two terms (Autumn 2020 and Spring 2021), with 1.5hr Zoom sessions running on a bi-weekly basis on a Saturday morning during term time, for up to 25 young people (YP) within the age range of 11 to 18yrs. The project aimed to:
− Expand and develop YP learning on the origins of the music that we know and love today, particularly popular music, and styles and artists most-known to the YP.
− To support the YP to express, explore, collaborate and create their own music, with a clear intention and theme; also encouraging reflective practice and clear pathways for development (for individuals and the wider group).
− To broaden YP musical horizons through giving relevant social, political and historical context to MOBO music and it's origins. This sometimes meant touching on challenging themes and content including the Transatlantic Slave Trade, in a safe and held environment; encouraging open discourse and peer reflection as a key component to developing YP understanding, practice and engagement.
− To make content accessible to a wide range of YP capacities, abilities and interests (with the majority of the group coming from SEND backgrounds).
− To sustain a space for YP to connect socially and creatively during a time when they are unable to meet and collaborate in person.
− To produce content remotely, created by the YP that they could be proud of.
Basic profile for participant A Gender: male Age: 12 years Ethnicity: Mixed – Black African and British Participant A is a child in care, currently happily housed with a British/white family and with limited access to his Ghanaian cultural roots on his father's side. This is something he and his host family outlined as a need and area of development for him early on in the project.
Young person's presentation at the beginning of the project/barriers Although participant A was keen to learn more about music from outside of his usual sphere of interest, and the African origins of MOBO music, he was not keen on joining sessions at the beginning of the project, and would often turn up to sessions with a low mood or energy; later feeding back that “I thought it was going to be boring”. Despite these challenges, he managed to attend the project throughout the two terms, and as sessions progressed, he became more and more interested in the content, and actively
engaged with tutors, guest artists as well as peers during sessions; offering feedback and valuable reflections on several occasions about his positive experience and “feeling inspired”. He also contributed to the final MOBO track, written collaboratively with his peers on the project, in response to group learning throughout the two terms. Musically, participant A started the project most interested in vocals and rap, and although he had a fairly low level of theoretical or technical musical knowledge, had a high level of innate creativity, and ability to process information as well as react to stimuli. Falling outside of the usual target group of the UP! ensemble (which is open to all within the age range/geography though specifically targeted at SEND), and being more capable and cognitive than other participants, suggested a need for more creative challenge, and presented a potential barrier for participant A to engage in the project fully. Like all YP attending the project, participant A experienced challenging and isolating conditions throughout the two terms, due to national restrictions, lock down, school closures and limited access to social and cultural activities.
Outcomes Participant A reported substantial and positive outcomes from engaging with the MOBO project. Comments included: “I didn't enjoy it at the beginning but every session turned out to be a lot of fun. It always took me about half an hour to get into it!” “I enjoyed learning about the background of black- originating music, as well as my own roots. It also helped to connect me with my Dad and his culture” The above feedback, feedback from his carer, and open one-to-one discussion on ethnicity and cultural labels with his vocal tutor outside of MOBO sessions, provided some much- needed context for participant A to challenge and develop his views around identity. He was able to express his concerns, questions and views creatively in a held space, as well as celebrate and connect with his cultural roots. All of this suggests a positive, significant and longer term impact on participant A's understanding of his own identity, personal development and confidence, as well as his ability for critical reflection. As a result of engaging in the project, participant A further developed song and rap- writing skills, recording and performance techniques, and social and collaborative skills. He also fed back that it was very much a benefit to feel part of a team and community, and to feel motivated and focussed on a creative challenge during a difficult time.
He was able to reflect critically on his own as well as others' practice, saying that working alongside peers with higher SEN needs was at times frustrating as he felt that he “had to go slower” and would have preferred to be more challenged at times. However, he also reflected that the experience taught him increased patience, ability to compromise, and to see other benefits such as working collaboratively and being part of a team. Further to this, a less expected though resoundingly positive outcome, was participant A's personal reflections on working alongside peers with higher SEN needs, saying that “it taught me to appreciate peoples' determination in having limitations, and that everyone is special in their own, different way”. Participant A's need for higher level creative challenge was met outside of the core project space, through additional one-to-one vocal lessons with an UP! Tutor, in which the project content could be explored in more detail. Other reflections from participant A included his personal project highlight of working with guest artist and PhD in Gospel and Civil Rights from Kentucky USA, Kathy Bullock, and his eagerness to do/explore more about MOBO music going forward. Overall, the project has served to illustrate as well as expand on it's initial aims; in terms of accessibility to a range of target groups, developing YP musical, cultural and creative horizons, producing quality content as an ensemble from remote locations, and helped to inspire collaboration, connection and exchange.