Rocking the stereotype
If the majority agree that music is the food of love, why are there so many prejudices surrounding music taste and countless people reluctant to play on?
It is not surprising that most people asked have never been to see an opera. For most, just a mention of Mozart conjures up images of upper-middle class couples watching men in tights and fat women singing. Similarly for a lot of people, rap represents gangsters caught up with gun crime.
To banish these stereotypes and to document some of Cardiff’s rich history through music and poetry, all things musical are being taken to the heart of communities in Cardiff on a double-decker bus.
Cardiff based company Welsh National Opera has teamed up with Safer Wales to put an end to negative stereotypes concerning opera, make music more accessible to the community and unearth some hidden talents in the meantime.
The Songbus is a year-long project, which started in September and parks up every Thursday evening in Riverside, Grangetown or Butetown to welcome locals aboard for free. People can then enjoy a range of musical activities which they wouldn’t ordinarily take part in.
|Our aim is to make opera more accessible for people and not as scary and elitist.
Asa Malmsten, the project manager who came up with the idea, said: “There are many different communities living in the Bay – some of them established for many decades and they bring extraordinary stories and different cultural experiences with them. The Songbus is a two-way exchange between WNO and its pool of expertise and Cardiff communities. ”
The Songbus is about anything to do with writing or music creation including writing and composing your own song, listening to music or learning more about opera. Its staff from Welsh National Opera and youth workers from Safer Wales create a vibrant and friendly atmosphere and give people the opportunity to immortalise their personal stories through song and poetry.
-An interview with Songbus project manager, Asa Malmsten
Downstairs is mainly for performing music where there is a keyboard, guitar and various percussion instruments available to use.
Composer, Alexander Douglas helps Songbus visitors put their songs to a melody and opera singer Mark Evans is there to perform them. And for the timid or tone deaf out there, Mark is even willing to accept requests while they tuck into the tea, coffee and biscuits. Meanwhile upstairs, Alan Harris helps with songwriting, Clayton does a rap masterclass and there is an opportunity to discover more about opera on the two computers with internet access.
The youngest person to come on the Songbus has been five and the oldest, 84. One of the highlights so far was when an eight-year-old girl was aboard for three hours and wrote and composed her own song, Cold is the Ice. Asa said: “The song was beautifully sung – it was just absolutely gorgeous. Her mum was over the moon.”
– Listen to Cold is the Ice performed by a WNO staff member followed by another song written by an older visitor about unrequited love.
The combination of classical and rap music on the same bus and the range of people who come – from elderly people putting pen to paper about past experiences in Sestina form, compared to twelve year old groups mastering their rap flow – is what makes the Songbus unique.
Asa said: “I hope to encourage a range of people to step on the bus, tell us their stories and turn them into song.”
Clayton takes the rap sessions on the top deck of the bus. Many people link rap and hip hop to negativity but he believes strongly this should not be the case. During a session with a 14-year-old youth, Clayton helped break the usual stereotype by turning the rap around into something positive.
– Listen to the rap here (performed by Clayton) and hear him talk about the negative connotations surrounding rap.
|A man comes out of jail and turns his life around, so you can turn this rap around. If you write something positive, that positivity generates from you.
Clayton said: “Rap aint got to be about negativity. That is rubbish. It should be about positivity not this aggression all the time. It makes me so furious that negativity sells better. Where there is good, there is bad. Where there is light, there is dark but now dark has been commercialised because that is what people want.”
So what will happen to the songs and poems produced on the Songbus? One of the principal wishes of the Songbus is to put Riverside, Grangetown and Butetown on the map by documenting CDs and lyrics produced there to leave a lasting legacy. A lyrics booklet will be made with a copy of all the songs and people will be invited to go to a recording studio to record their songs for a CD. There is also talk of a summer performance.
Asa said: “I believe that music makes people respond and what we do makes a huge difference to the people who come aboard. We are very excited at what might emerge over the coming months.”
Click below on each question to see the results of my online poll.