Celebrating three years of our singing circle

Three years!! That’s how old our singing circle is. We celebrated that achievement last night with twenty voices singing beautiful songs. We did a mash up of a Disney song (A Whole New World from Aladdin) and a Bollywood song (Chaiyya Chaiyya from Dil Se). We wobbled on the bits where the songs overlay but laughed about it. We changed some of the words in the Disney song to reflect the magic carpet journey through sisterhood. Last night we sang a few protest songs, it just emerged from us. With all that is going in the world, particularly the demonising of children and young refugees in the press, it just felt right to reject those ideas with songs. Afterwards Sondhya sent us a playlist of protest songs which can found here.


Lucy, Karen and Shilpa have been there from day one. It was a wonderful mix of new and old faces. We welcomed six new women and we were delighted to see our wonderful Sarah who has moved back to Denmark. And I swear Karen was showing off some serious moves yesterday. 


With Autumn, it is getting darker but we also have beautiful trees. So we lit some candles to celebrate this beautiful season, which has also brings us Diwali, Halloween and Bonfire night. We had our own candles for the the Diwali festival. 
We ended the singing circle with, Thina Simunye wrapping it around Mary and the beautiful friend she lost. Mary is off to South Africa and will back in May. We wish her a safe journey. 

Habiba 

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It is brilliantly simple.

I joined the singing group a couple of years ago. I had been to a workshop with Shilpa, who runs the singing sessions for us, and I was totally hooked. I felt free. Coming to the group was an even bigger bonus, as I got the singing, yes, but also found an amazing community of women. Women who have genuinely welcomed me for me.

I came back after the first session. It was a potent combination of the power of my voice, feeling really accepting of myself – that singing wasn’t a difficult or unnatural or complicated thing. That it was something I could tap into, and become part of a group, just by doing it. I loved how welcome everyone in the group was made to feel and it was a really unique place where everyone was welcomed and everyone could contribute.  

It’s the little things that keep bringing me back – things such as not following music, or having to follow notes. After two years, I still happily don’t know if my voice is baratone or any of those things. Or what a key is. I just follow Shilpa moving her hand up and down to indicate where we sing a bit higher or lower. It is brilliantly simple.

Before I came to the singing group, I believed singing was hard, or precise or not for me.

Eve

That feeling of coziness

I came to singing for the first time three years ago. I have been coming regularly ever since then. The reason I love it so much is because this is safe, quiet and calm space. It’s a space I come to be in with other amazing women, who have incredible life experiences and perspectives and warmth and spirit which I love to be around. 

I love singing I think it’s a real connecter  of people. Singing helps me to release some emotions and tensions that build up during the day, so I find it therapeutic. Singing is a leveller in a way that conversations can’t be and helps us to connect with each other in a different kind of way. Also, I just love this little room. It makes me feel safe…can’t explain it, like hygge, a Danish word that means coziness, creating a warm atmosphere and enjoying the good things in life with good people. This place has that feeling. 

Lucy 

When I sing…I feel like I’ve been washed

When I sing…I feel like I’ve been washed somehow. The amount of time I’ve gone into those sessions feeling totally crap after work, whether drained or tired or teary or angry or just frustrated with all the things I’m supposed to “do”. Sometimes I wondered if I should still go or go home and curl on sofa and eat chocolate and be cross with the world. In each and every time I have gone along I have felt totally different after. Genuinely transformed. 

The act of singing – and doing it nothing more than it feels good to do and share with a small group of women – has shifted something each time. On truly rubbish days it has felt magic, as though the vibrations of singing and being together chased away the bad feelings.

Singing with other women is very uplifting. They are bunch of women with whom all the nonesence of life and social communication doesn’t exist – the power of singing brings the group together in a regulatory way. I feel accepted with whatever energy I bring and the community there is brilliant. New people are welcomed, no-one asks any difficult questions and people really want to get to know you. 

 Even when big life things have happened – I got married and then was pregnancy with my first child – this group didn’t ask the “same old three or so questions” that everyone else was asking all the time. They instead just “sat” with the information and shared my happiness. Nothing nosey, nothing where they were ticking off a list of “things”, they just genuinely cared I suppose.

It’s been brilliant, even with all the changes we have had. 

Eve 

Party!….and a welcome

Yesterday we had a party to celebrate the launch of our website, invite  new members and connect with those who haven’t been for a while. As usual, it wasn’t a perfect execution of professionalism, it was just us cobbling together ideas, equipment, tasks and you know….it was great. It was us creating space to welcome each other, sing, laugh, eat (lots of food) and feel those moments of joy that we sometimes miss in our daily lives because we are so busy. 


Lucy led us with a Zimbabwen welcome song, Ali helped us connect with a song that has been sang at campfires for generations and Ama played the drums and sang a song from Ghana, a mixture of twi and ga, aided by Maame. Mary read out a beautiful poem about life that she had written and we just went into our own rendition of Labbi Saffre ‘something inside so strong’, it just felt perfect – honouring that thing inside us that keeps our flames burning. We had five new people, who just went with the flow – shared food with us, sang with gusto even if some of the words were unrecognisable, helped clean up.

We talked about how hard it can be to create community in London, with its transient population, latest fads and stress. The fact that we have continued  to create a community with each other, a diverse group of women from different generations, shows how much we desire this.  I got a chance to talk to Steph and Ama, and just found myself being blown away by their awesomeness. Not the bragging type sort of awesomeness but you know, the stuff you recognise in sisterhood. That alone was worth it. 


Habiba 

How do I know that I can sing?

I almost didn’t turn up on that Tuesday night, I mean I don’t even hum and I certainly can’t sing. I had seen those choirs on TV, in films and even in church – you know, the ones that belt out stuff that ordinary people can’t do. My occasional bursts of joy that sound like songs only make sense to me, with my friends and family begging me “please stop” with laughter or pained looks. So what was I doing thinking about accepting  Shilpa’s invitation to a women’s singing group? I had stressed to her that I can’t sing, she had simply said that doesn’t matter. I didn’t really believe that and whilst I can take my siblings laughing at my singing, could I take the public humiliation? So I did the thing I could think of ….. I googled ‘How do I know that I can sing?’

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I wasn’t filled with much hope by the search results, so I read her blog and I was touched her work being rooted in community development (something I understood), that she also grew up believing she couldn’t sing and that our ideas of what singing is are based on TV shows and concerts. I reflected on my time in Kenya with some school kids, who found it strange that I would even say I can’t sing, with giggles they would say “everyone can sing and dance!” Then they would proceed to teach me how to sing and dance, some of the best times in my life.

With that I got the courage and decided I was going to go and hell I felt nervous. I found a group of women sitting in a circle with friendly welcoming smiles. I didn’t know the songs, they sounded hard and I had no idea what words like ‘high note’ or ‘harmony’ meant, it was bringing out self doubt. I must have joined on the perfect day because the whole group was going through a bit of a wobble with the song, timid and not going for it,  Shilpa stopped, asked us to tapped our shoulders and told us to “dust it off”, move on, let go, don’t care. I was grateful for this, no expectation of perfection or performance, just voice and seeking of joy. I don’t even remember the songs we sung that day, I just remember those words. With those words, I felt OK about being part of a singing group, I felt OK about my voice and I trusted the diverse range of women to carry me and each other. I kept going and twelve months later, I am still going.

Habiba

Deep focus on breathing

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In 2015 we took a deeper focus on breathing – mindfulness of the breath, understanding how our breath is linked to our emotions and exploring how we can breathe more fully and in a way that supports our voices. Singers also practised grounding and opening the posture, releasing our natural voices. And developing gentleness in how we treat ourselves. The songs we sang we a real mix, from spirituals and Civil Rights anthems, to Bollywood, to folk songs from around the British Isles. The most exciting development was that many singers shared songs – from their childhood, country of origin, favourite song that meant something to them currently or one that they had written themselves. Of course we had fun arranging these and mashing them up to forge new creations too.

Shilpa Shah

Million Women Rise

By Shilpa

Yesterday’s Million Women Rise march in London was phenomenal. It’s an annual march organised by Sabrina and a small team of dedicated volunteers, aiming to stop gendered violence against women and children.

Thousands of women, including loads of Black and Brown women, occupying the central shopping thoroughfare Oxford Street with our bodies, voices and drums. Shoppers looking confused, bemused or curious. A buzzy energy in the air that made my hands and head tingle. I normally feel the cold, but yesterday I didn’t. So many women with tears in their eyes. The march organisers chanted with loud strong voices and we echoed their words right back. A Latin American drumming group led the way. I marched next to Tobi, who was carrying her curious and super sharp 2-yr old daughter on her back – she heard the singing, looked around for a while, then was lulled to sleep immediately by thousands of aunties acting with the wish that her generation won’t have reason to march in this way.

My Heart Sings women rushed ahead at the end to get to the rally at Trafalgar Square and sing songs of strength and togetherness to welcome the marchers in. Obscure, pendatic bullying by council officials and intrusive filming of the event, clamping down on most of the musical contributions, stopped us (and others) from singing then.

Collective singing and other forms of music as part of protest is extremely, potently, powerful (think of the anti-Apartheid and US Civil Rights eras) – it’s clever for authorities to limit the amount of music in protests. So when we heard the march was around the corner, we didn’t sing, we chanted.. Standing shoulder to shoulder on the small stage with a LOUD sound system, with other singers, led by the march organisers…. Power to the Women! Women got the Power! Sister can you feel it! It’s getting stronger by the hour! POWER!

Then the long yellow and black banner and loads of red t-shirts, coats, hats, scarfs, exhilarated faces and placards appeared in front of the National Gallery. Just at that moment the sun came out and time stretched for a moment.. It felt like a huge, love-filled conquering army of powerful women, being welcomed home. They stopped, chanting and drumming, a call and response from either end of Trafalgar Square. Then this sea of red, black, brown, white, spilled into the square and formed a mass to listen to the speakers.