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Blog: A night to remember, as Cowley young people perform music created with detainees

Blog: A night to remember, as Cowley young people perform music created with detainees

19th April 2018

By Gini Simpson

On Friday 23 March, songs co-written by detainees held at Campsfield House Immigration Removal Centre (IRC) and musicians from the My Normal music project, were performed in public for the first time.

Campsfield House IRC is based on the outskirts of Oxford, near the airport. It holds a maximum of 276 male detainees and is run by Mitie PLC. My Normal is an inclusive music project, working with LGBTQ + and disabled young people, based at the Ark T Centre, a community arts centre, café and home to the Oxford Public Living Room, located in Cowley, Oxford. Public Living Rooms are community-spirited, comfortable spaces which are open to everyone.

In February and March 2018, artists Oliver Seager and Anna de Mutiis delivered 12 workshops with detainees at Campsfield House and My Normal participants, and were supported by MID volunteer workshop assistant Max Cohen. In separate sessions at the IRC and Ark T, the two groups wrote music and lyrics which were recorded and swapped between groups; they then worked on each other’s music to co-create songs about their own life experiences. The groups never met, but facilitated by artists, they shared experiences and sounds and got to know each other.

My Normal/MID band performing. Photo courtesy of Steve Foster

My Normal/MID band performing. Photo courtesy of Steve Foster

I was at one of the workshops at Campsfield House. It was unforgettable. Outside it was snowing heavily. Inside Oliver and Anna were jamming with groups of detainees from all over the world. The churn was phenomenal, Albanians, Iraqis, Brazilians, Algerians, at least a quarter of Campsfield’s detainees in one afternoon. This high energy workshop included rapping, jamming, clapping, drumming, riffing and so much more. Detainees recorded musical and spoken messages for the My Normal group and were treated to an intimate performance from Oliver, who alongside his role as MID artist is a Kent-based rapper MC who goes by the name Kotchin.

Oliver, aka Kotchin performing. Photo courtesy of Steve Foster

Oliver, aka Kotchin performing. Photo courtesy of Steve Foster

I was at one of the workshops at Campsfield House. It was unforgettable. Outside it was snowing heavily. Inside Oliver and Anna were jamming with groups of detainees from all over the world. [...] This high energy workshop included rapping, jamming, clapping, drumming, riffing and so much more. 

On the community side, Hannah Bruce, My Normal Project Manager reflected that:  “The participants have shared such a strong message of empathy & connection, being able to celebrate our differences, as well as talk about equality. This project has been a really special project for our group - having them collaborate on songs with Campsfield House has given them a unique experience of sharing their voice and hearing a direct response to their lyrics, music and viewpoints on the world, as well as listening to these from the Campsfield House participants.”

The project culminated with the performance of some of the tracks by the My Normal/MID band at a community meal at the Ark T centre, laid on by the Camerados Neighbourhood Kitchen for a cross section of the local community. Playing to an audience of over 150, including babies, young people, older people and those in between, tracks included lyrics which had been recorded in Campsfield House and were triggered by an interactive percussion system.

Performing to friends, family and wider audiences plays a powerful role in developing confidence, profiling ‘hidden’ voices and worlds and creating exciting new music for diverse groups of people. The My Normal/MID band was followed by a set from MC Kotchin and then Oxford-based Indie band, Band of Hope. Anna played drums for both bands.

Local Cowley community enjoying supper together

Local Cowley community enjoying supper together

The project culminated with the performance of some of the tracks by the My Normal/MID band at a community meal at the Ark T centre [...]

Playing to an audience of over 150, including babies, young people, older people and those in between, tracks included lyrics which had been recorded in Campsfield House and were triggered by an interactive percussion system.

The evening was topped off with bread and butter pudding, the Camerados had managed to cook for everyone using recycled food at a total cost of £30. We all agreed the food was delicious and the music was moving and incredible. The evening was a real credit to all of the organisers, My Normal, the Campsfield House detainees and to Anna and Oliver for their energy, commitment and amazing music skills, both on the evening, and throughout the entire project.

(Music from the project coming to our music player soon!)

Anna on the drums. Photo courtesy of Steve Foster

Anna on the drums. Photo courtesy of Steve Foster