The Americana Music Association - UK were honoured to be invited back by Hackney Council’s Culture team to host another songwriting workshop, after the successful songwriting workshop with Hackney Empire Elders held in January 2020.
This time, First-generation Windrush residents created songs about their lives together with the AMA-UK songwriters, as part of the Council’s Hackney virtual Windrush Generations Festival.
Through informal conversations, six original songs were created, as well as new friendships amongst the elders and songwriters.
From childhood memories and taking the call to rebuild Britain, to migrating and making it their home for the last 50 years, stories brought back inspirational, educational and emotional experiences, which at times were relevant to current issues for society.
This project would have been held in person but due to the COVID19 restrictions, we found a way to connect via phone calls, emails and video chats - even with the digital barrier everyone involved had a positive experience and got to know their songwriting partners well.
The AMA-UK member songwriters who are from all over the UK and Ireland learnt so much from these amazing seniors and all feel a deep sense of honour to have been trusted with these beautiful stories that they, in turn, have weaved into a set of wonderful songs that we hope will be tangible keepsakes for the families involved. We know for the musicians it was moving, educational and an unforgettable experience.
Please read more about this wonderful project and all the other amazing things that have been happening in Hackney for the Windrush Festival during this unprecedented time of COVID 19 HERE
Here are the six songs, plus a little bit about each AMA-UK member and their collaborative writing partner:
Thank you to Fiona Bevan our songwriting coach through out the project
Fiona Bevan : It has been very special to be involved in the Windrush song writing collaboration project in a mentoring role. I feel very lucky to have been able to hear the wisdom of the Windrush generation immigrants and their first-hand stories of love, displacement, struggle and the epic transformation of building a new life in the UK. I also feel honoured to be helping nurture the songwriters as they navigate the challenges and complexities of telling someone else’s story through their lyrics and melodies. At this exact moment of history and the tragic events unfolding, this project feels incredibly important, and has been joyful and extremely moving for everyone involved. www.fionabevan.co.uk
Birds Of A Feather – Kris Wilkinson Hughes with Tony and Sherlene Barker
Kris Wilkinson Hughes (My Girl The River): Originally from the USA, I immigrated to the UK 20 years ago. I am so privileged to be a part of this incredible project, hearing stories that speak to a time when so many cultures immigrated to the UK. I got to know Tony and Sharlene as we spoke about favourite ‘Bajan’ memories, starting over, homesickness, making new friends and raising a family. I was inspired by their devotion to each other, their faith, community, loving family, and very wise words. www.mygirltheriver.com
Sherlene Barker: I was a bit apprehensive about sharing my story to someone I had never met about coming to this country, but knowing it was part of celebrating the Windrush generation, that inspired me to partake in the project.Kris put us at ease and was very good at collating our stories. I really enjoyed it. For me, I found it fulfilling to let her into my journey here.
Tony Barker: It was a successful partnership putting the song together. I was comfortable talking about my life here in England and it took me back to those special moments like working on the number 106 bus as a conductor, where I first met my wife
The Motherland – Dewi Bowen with Louise Parr
Dewi Bowen (Sons of Owen) : I had the great pleasure of speaking with Louise to create this song ‘The Motherland’. This song is a story of woman making a journey in search of a better life for herself and family in a new world and the ups and downs along the way. With an uplifting chorus the song highlights the great passion Louise spoke with about the life she has created for herself in The Motherland full of friends and happiness. I’ve enjoyed every step of the process working with the Americana Music Association UK and look forward to hearing everyones songs. www.sonsofowen.com
Louise Parr: I felt very relax and felt that I knew the person who I was speaking to. I answered the questions to the best of my ability and if it any time I was uncertain, I felt that I could ask for clarification and would ask him to explain it again. This experience bought back memories from my younger years. I had a happy childhood, even though my family was poor. I was happy to come to England, as I did not know what to expect. Sometimes I would explain to him what I meant because I felt he did not understand what I had said and this works both ways.
Somewhere New – Lady Nade with a Hackney Resident
Lady Nade: I wrote this song, with a positive, established Hackney resident about their insightful journey from Jamaica to England and all the changes that happened there after. It’s a song bouquet of memories in tribute to her sister's wedding that took place upon her arrival. The Hackney elder and I spoke about change and the topical concepts of social distancing.
I found myself drawn to the outdoors when composing and capturing the song's essence; appreciating the seeds of life and the gentle sprouts of change. Weaving in as we approach the precipice of revitalised engagement for the enduring black lives matter movement from the wider community.
Lady Nade's writing partner chose to stay anonymous
Elvis Was Good, Yeah He Was Alright – Callum Lury with Milton Smith
Callum Lury (The Blue Highways): Empathy and understanding. That for me is what this experience is about, and in many ways is what I consider song writing more broadly to be about; attempting to improve ourselves, to better understand those who are different to us, socially, politically, culturally. To see who they are, what defines them, what moves them. Milton is a man of great character, with an astounding resilience and stoicism. But I haven’t, and wouldn’t try to simply write his story, but instead have been inspired by his words and actions, hopefully creating something that speaks not only to his experience but as part of a wider story. www.thebluehighwaysband.com
Milton Smith: Milton felt that the whole experience enjoyable, interesting and what he said was based on his own experience on coming to United Kingdom. He was able to learn more about the Windrush and never knew that it covered the period between 1948 – 1971. He was surprised that the young man who he spoke to was able to use his words to make a song and found this interesting. He is very excited about this and is waiting to hear the song. Overall experience was very interesting, for the little that he knows and learnt during this session.
Streets Paved With Cold – Dave Giles with Ngoma Bishop
Dave Giles: From my very first phone call with Ngoma, I knew that this was going to be fruitful. I have enough material from him to be able to create an album worth of songs, and every single story would be worth hearing. His humour, openness, intelligence and eloquence have been a joy to experience and to be able to learn so much from him has been a real blessing. I knew it was going well when we were texting each other ideas of rhyming couplets at 1am. I look forward to collaborating with him again in the future. www.davejgiles.com
Ngoma Bishop: My experiences of or with those that forever seem to want me to share my story; usually with no psychological, spiritual, emotional, financial or other discernible benefit to me, and generally via someone with whom I had little or no connection, had made me not only weary of, but positively hostile to such approaches. Therefore when approached about this project, I was adamant I wanted no part of it. Fortunately Sherrie persisted and eventually that together with positive feedback I had received from a participant of a similar and previous project, I decided to give it a go, with the proviso that if at any time I felt unhappy I was out. Good job I was persuaded. I was paired with singer songwriter Dave Giles. Dave contacted me and two hours into a five minute audio phone conversation, we were both convinced that this was going to work. A couple of days later we spoke again, this time audio visual. Over another couple of hours we shared memories and experiences, that at times were very similar and at other times vastly different. Long story short, less than forty-eight hours on and we had somehow co-written a song that told my life story in less than half a dozen verses. I had always written alone, so a collaboration of this kind was new to me. We have discussed and agreed how we want to approach the instrumentation and ownership of our song. I am looking forward eagerly to the final product.
Promises – Kairen Caine with Trevor Stewart
Kairen Caine: Trevor and I had a lovely long online video chat at the start of the song’s development followed by regular emails. He sent me a draft of a book he is writing for his family, which was also a wonderful resource. Telling a person’s story from a different culture and life experience is a challenging one but Trevor has been so positive about the process and is a great storyteller. ‘Promises’ is a glimpse into Trevor’s own individual journey and outlook on life and it has been an absolute joy to collaborate with him. He has taught me very much. www.kairencaine.com
Trevor Stewart: Yes, a song can describe the feelings of a Jamaican country boy growing up in London. The songwriter and myself managed to discover and convey my experiences and their meanings. It elated me and as the song was finished it brought tears to my eyes. Memories came alive sweet and dear, heart-warming, and sad. The songwriter Kairen was able to find the real me. I listen to my song repeatedly. I love it. Thank you, Hackney Culture Team. I am grateful to have this song as part of my legacy.