Hear Me Out at the Bernie Grant Arts Centre
1 July 2022
“Come, let’s walk down the road and make some new friends. ‘Cos life is too short to be lonely.” These powerful lyrics are sung out loud and clear by a newly-formed, seven-piece band from Hear Me Out. They have assembled here on a warm Saturday outside South Tottenham’s Bernie Arts Centre to celebrate Windrush Day alongside the likes of Cleveland Watkiss and Disco Loco and Steppz Dance. On either side of the stage are various market stalls selling rum punch, Caribbean food and the work of local artists, and in front, a community-centric audience full of energy and ready to be transported.
Heavy, dubby bass sends vibrations through the astroturf, courtesy of Kaveh G Dezfuli. In a conversation afterwards, the bassist mentions having only met the other musicians four days prior. Even so, the band members are locked in and grooving. Ghandizadeh's reggae lines supercharge the set, blended with the electric guitar musings of Elisha Millard and Anna De Mutiis on drums. Sam Carter and Joseph Ayanfe fill out the texture further on keyboards. Ayanfe’s playing contains elements of gospel and R&B, with a sudden, angular solo improvisation towards the end of the set showcasing his jazz sensibility.
The rhythm section underpins a mixture of singing and rapping, with choruses sung in bright harmonies between the band members and led mainly by Hear Me Out workshop artist Oliver Seager. The message is about prevailing, with lyrics like “if the flowers don’t bloom, it takes time, energy and effort to grow” sung joyously but with an edge of poignancy. This edge becomes all the more apparent when Seager dedicates it to fellow Hear Me Out musician O’Neil Carlton Stewart, also known as Goodhead, the original songwriter. A long-time participant of the programme, O’Neil has created, recorded and performed music with Hear Me Out since 2016 and was even involved in last year’s Windrush celebration at the very same venue. He was sadly deported to Jamaica with six other people on a charter flight on 18 May, and so the performance of his song in particular is bittersweet.
‘Vampire’ is another strong number in the set, written by Hear Me Out trustee Lamin Joof, who fronts the line-up on djembe and vocals. It is based on his time in detention, where he was held for 9 months, as well as his struggle to cope afterwards. ‘Vampire’ is Joof’s word for a system that always has its teeth in the detainees, even after they are supposedly free of it. The Hear Me Out band comprises musicians of different cultures and backgrounds, but united by this shared journey. It is this distressing experience which fuels their 40-minute set on Windrush Day, a statement of hope tinged with anger which left a powerful impression on all those in attendance.