This is a Colab project that took place in a prison in London, with a group of students from Trinity Laban Coservatoire of Music and Dance and the organization ''Finding rhythms''. The aim of this post (and of the following four also) is to illustrate our work and colaboration with the people who live inside the prison, in other words those who we call ''Prisoners''.
(Electonic devices such us phones, cameras and recorders were not allowed inside the prison. We had only the equipment from the production and we are not allowed to take/use the material recorded due to copyrights, so audiovisual material as well as pictures will be limited.)
The day is Monday and we are all excited to face a unique challenge. My colleaques from Trinity Laban are Charlie, Alexis, Madeleine, Susie, Maria, Lucy, Anna, Tim, Nicole, Vikki. It was the first time for all of us to go inside a prison. We all had our thoughts, our expectations but we didn't really know what we were about to see. We spent a lot of time to give fingerprints, take photos and details in the entrance so we can go through the check and then inside. Phones, cameras, electronic devices and many more things are not allowed inside the prison.
And that's it, we went inside where we were surrounded by huge fences. We had to pass through many locked doors, and when i say many i mean it! Every 5 meters there was a locked door. If you wanted to go 10 meters further? You had to unlock a door with a key that only some of people who work there have, and show an id in front of a camera. If you wanted to go to inside a building? You had to unlock more than one door. Even the toilets, in the chapel we were, were locked. Anyway, we went directly in the chapel where the whole project was about to take place. As soon as we went there we met the first person with who we were about to work, David.
The Padre of the chapel wanted to talk to us before the people from the prison come in, so we had some guidance from him about things we can avoid and things that we shouldn't be afraid of. After that, we met the people from the prison and we had some talk about why we are there and what we are going to do. The main purpose of the project was to write music, record the music and perform on Friday (after four days) in front of an audience. Quite challenging I should say. Of course, apart from the main purpose of the project, we all had our personal reasons to be there. I don't want to say now what my reasons were but i will make it clear enough later on my posts.
After some minutes the chapel was full of musical equipment, 3 keyboards, drum set, speakers, 2 violins, one viola, 2 microphones, one melodica, plenty of percussions, laptop for recordings, about 20 or even more headphones and many more. At that time we started explaining how the instruments work and how they sound. Robin (the Leader of Finding Rhythms) suggested that Alexis, Lucy and Vikki could play a repeated pattern on Strings so they can have an idea. That pattern was recorded and we started adding instruments. It was something simple, just C and Bb chords, but many different layers with different sounds were recorded. Also percussions were added and later the day the singers Susie, Anna and Madeleine added plenty of voices as well as a rap part from David, with lyrics that he wrote by himself. That was the first song we started working on and we called it ''I am a Titan''.
The next step was to split the team and work in smaller groups. We were more than 20 people so we thought that it would be better if some of the musicians would collaborate with a few people from the prison so we can bring the best out of them. At that time i had the chance to meet Ben. Ben is the guy that can dance, sing and play the piano without an ending! Very shy in the beggining but very energetic later. We just asked him, what you want to say, what do you imagine, what sound do have in mind? Ben doesn't know a lot about music, he had some piano lessons when he was young but not enough to play properly. As i said he was very shy and always was telling us that we are the musicians and we know better what we have to do. After some push he started playing on the piano a line that had all the groove one line can have. He also wrote some lyrics and we tried to add some percussions and some rhythms. When we started i was thinking that he would have something very sad to say, something very deep but the first that came to his mind was something that one could dance. That song was named after its lyrics of course, ''Sugar Bumbum''.
A break was followed and we went for the lunch to the Bistro. After the lunch break some recordings took place and some new people joined us. The other groups came up with other songs like ''Ose o baba'' (which is a prayer if i undesrtood well) and ''Lift me up''. We formed again groups and now i was with Charlie, Anna, Ben and a new guy called Herbie. We started again the same process but now we were more focused on lyrics. We asked Ben and Herbie ''what do you want to say and write about?''. That moment it was the first time i was really surprised. People who have no idea of music started writting lyrics with very deep meaning. They didn't want to impress they just wanted to communicate which is the main purpose of music anyway. I still remember very clearly the face of Herbie when he was explaining his lyrics to me. The title was ''Shutter Island''. He asked me ''have you seen that movie?'' I said yes... Everyone here he said is like that, everyone is crazy, we have to face so many crazy people every day, we live among so many diseases. He said enough things so one can write lyrics for 10 hours non stop. Ben on the other hand was silent and was writting all the time. He was so concentrated on what he was doing. He wrote some lyrics about a racist behaviour that he faced when he first came in his wing.
After that some recordings took place and we returned home. The list we the songs that we have started working was:
1. I am a Titan
2. Sugar bumbum
3. Ose o baba
4. Lift me up
5. Shutter island
6. Artificial lights
7. Cycle of love
I would like to finish this post with a lyric that Herbie wrote.
'' I am here with my head down trying to keep my head up, and when i am out i am with my head up trying to keep my head down''
After Monday Herbie never came again on this project and we didn't have the chance to finish his piece.