By Shilpa

A few weeks ago, my sister Trishna and I led a singing and dance workshop with women in Peterborough prison, in association with Gal-Dem, an online magazine by and for Women of Colour.

‘An ‘old skool’ Bollywood track blasted from a speaker in the corner of the room. Some women sat around the edge of the room looking curious, shy or reticent. Some toe-tapping started, a few nodded their heads and smiled. One woman got up and started dancing salsa, another shook her hips and started whining to the dhol beat. We looked at each other and smiled; we were in for a fun morning…

…Read more here

http://www.gal-dem.com/2015/10/24/black-history-month-and-the-power-of-song-and-dance-in-prison/

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World Mental Health Day was on Saturday 10th October.

A bitter-sweet day of anger, sadness, hope and gratitude to remind ourselves that mental health issues affect all of us in some way, that quality, holistic mental health services are a right for all, that stigma and discrimination must be fought… and also to celebrate what we all do to support and encourage positive mental health in ourselves and each other.

A woman who recently attended a My Heart Sings workshop posted these words on Facebook:

‘This year’s theme is #dignityinmentalhealth. To me, this means revolutionising systems based on oppression, coercion, human rights violations, and ineffective and unsafe treatment. We need an all-systems change to really achieve dignity in mental health. This includes the education, criminal justice and political systems, as well as the health system. It means campaigning against saneism, racism, sexism, homophobia, neo-colonialism, transphobia, classism, ableism and other oppressive systems.

Mental health is a social justice and human rights issue. #WMHD2015′

Women from the My Heart Sings Tuesday Circle marked the day in two ways.

In our regular sing, we discussed what helps us have positive mental health. From eating well and getting enough sleep to spending time with other women (particularly others with shared experiences, such as other women of colour or other LGBTQ women). From expressing feelings through creative arts to raising our voices against injustice through protest. We reminded ourselves about how singing together helps build community and how it can support mental health.

A number of us also attended the World Mental Health Day festival at St Lukes, the community centre which hosts our regular singing circle. The brilliant organsation Key Changes, who ‘promote positive mental health through music’, had organised an afternoon of uplifting and thought-provoking activities, finishing with an Open Mic night showcasing the clients they work with.

The My Heart Sings contribution was a LOUD pop-up group sing to kick off the Open Mic night. We were thrilled at how many people were willing to overcome nerves and have a go. Sixty people, from 2 years to 80 years old, singing and moving in unison creates a hard-to-beat energy and feeling of satisfaction.

And then we watched the Open Mic night – members of Key Changes performing songs and spoken word pieces, full of courage, truthfulness, love and playfulness. Some of the pieces were politically charged, as the artists drew connections between mental health and the consumerism, isloation, poverty and disempowerment experienced by many.

One singer said ‘the connection to others that we all seek seemed really present. The way people supported each other, connected to the poems, songs, the hugs of comfort and solidarity. I really love stuff like that because it reminds me that despite billions of £ spent on marketing and monetarising our lives, it is these connections that we can’t let go of and perhaps need more than ever now.’

20151019_210105Messages handed out to attendees at the World Mental Health Day event organised by Key Changes

IMG-20151010-WA0007Two of our youngest singers won the art competition and were thrilled with their prizes.

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Every My Heart Sings singing circle starts with a few moments to notice the connection between our feet and the Earth beneath us.

This Tuesday’s women’s circle started with some slow walking, listening to these words:

‘When we feel that we’re fragile, not stable or solid, we can come back to ourselves and take refuge in the Earth. With each step we can feel her solidity beneath our feet. When we’re truly in touch with the Earth, we can feel her supportive embrace and her stability.

We can use all our body and our mind to go back to the Earth and surrender ourselves to her. With each breathe we release all our agitiation, our fragility and our suffering. Just being aware of her benevolent presence can already bring relief.’

– Thich Nhat Hanh, Love Letter to the Earth

Try it now. On the bus, at your desk, on a sofa, with shoes or without.

Spread your toes. Feel the ground beneath you. Notice which parts of you touch the floor or the seat. Feel how you are supported. Take a breath.

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Dear fabulous women who attended the My Heart Sings Tuesday Women’s circle this week.

I’m writing to say I’m sorry.

On Tuesday, I was having a bit of a sh*t day. I was tired to the point of eyelids drooping. My period was due and my body ached. I’d argued with someone I love. My daily self-care practices had recently gone AWOL and I felt disorientated being back in a noisy, busy London after some time away.

And it showed on Tuesday night. My words refused to leave my mouth in the right order. I forgot what I was doing a couple of times. I wasn’t on form to lead the more-complex-than-usual harmonies I had prepared.

However, that’s not what I’m apologising for. I’m not the only vocal-leader – or indeed human being – ever to have not felt on top of my game, right? It happens to all of us. Life happens to all of us.

I feel sorry for not stopping and being honest about it. I’ve managed to do this a couple of times when leading past workshops. I’ve said that I’m feeling a bit tender and asked for understanding and support, which has been offered freely and kindly from you all.

On Tuesday I did neither. I zipped my body, mind and heart up tight and I dived into 50 lengths of going-for-gold front crawl when I was really only up for a bit of gentle paddling in the shallow-end. On a lilo. With a cup of tea and a chocolate hob-nob.

What happened next was predictable. My breathing got shallower. My jaw tensed. My shoulders came up to around my ears. I jumped up and down and ran around so fast that my legs resembled cartoon Roadrunner’s. I made occasional high pitched jokes about ‘losing it today’ but didn’t really soften my guard as I did so. Some people call this ‘styling it out’. I call it being hard on myself.

We live in a culture that expects us to ‘perform’ at our best, consistently. And when we’re not feeling at our peak, keeping our feelings hidden is a norm. Presenting an upbeat, brave face is even thought of as being strong and capable. Yet it takes immense courage to accept and show the parts of us which feel more tender.

Every single My Heart Sings workshop begins with some words and exercises to encourage being comfortable. Be welcome in the room as who you are, the whole you, and however you’re feeling right now. And watering the seeds of non-judgement; about loosening our sense of ‘getting it right’ and being kind to ourselves. I’ve loved seeing you wonderful women kick off your shoes or even fall asleep on the sofa while the singing continues around you. I’ve loved seeing you offer hugs and supportive words to each other and me.

I try to uphold these principles myself (perhaps most notably by stopping in the middle of one session to fling off my too-tight bra). For some reason, it didn’t go this way this on Tuesday. I’m sorry to me and to you all for not letting you see the whole me as I struggled with accepting my vulnerability. I’m sure I would have been met with kindness and perhaps some sisterly teasing, if I had.

Q2 smallPoppy image © Shilpa Shah

I’m sure many of you will have experienced a similar situation in your own lives and work. What can we do in the moment, that helps? These are the things that have helped me in the past:

  • Stop and breathe. Ask everyone to join me in 3-5 breaths, which can help calm the nervous system and allow more oxygen into the body.
  • Notice what I’m feeling. And pay attention to sensations my body – muscles held tight, heat in the face, my heartbeat. Feel the connection with the ground below my feet.
  • Say something about how I’m feeling, without apology. Trust in the soft ears and hearts of those around me
  • Have some words which I can say to myself, such as ‘I am enough’ or ‘It’s OK to be me’
  • Make a clear request for help, if I need it
  • Change the energy – take a short break, lead a different song, do something which moves the body if possible.
  • Do you have more ideas…….?

‘We think that the point is to pass the test or overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.’

Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart

I’m sharing this as a blog because I hope the words may strike a chord with readers. Thanks Guillermo for inspiring it with your story and the perfectly-timed reminder about being ‘enough’. Thanks also to Rif and Ama, for reminding me to never apologise too much.

Reporting back from the recent demonstration at Yarl’s Wood Immigration detention centre

By Lucy

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There’s nothing like meeting real people – not ‘detainees’ ‘asylum seekers’ ‘refugees’ or ‘immigrants’ – but living, breathing, talking, impassioned real life people, to make the suffering of those detained in this country hit home in all its absurdity and shame.

Bruk is a young woman who had recently been released from Yarls Wood detention centre when she joined us on a demo outside the centre on Saturday 25th April 2015. She is 19 years old, with mobile phone semi-permanently attached to her ear, long dark hair, big smile and made up eyes full of emotion. She came here at age 17, to escape racist attacks in Kyrgyzstan. She greeted us with warmth although she knew nothing of us.

When we arrived at Yarl’s Wood, around 30 of us on a 2.5 hour coach from central London, we first tramped through a couple of fields to a spot chosen by the excellent people at Movement for Justice, where we could see through the high fence to some of the bedroom windows at the centre, roughly 200metres away.

Microphones out, speakers plugged in, banners unravelled – there was no fussing about and we were straight into chanting at the top of our voices.

“Detention centres – shut them down” “Yarl’s Wood – shut it down”

“Asylum seekers have the right, here to stay, here to fight”

“No human is illegal”

“So-so-solidarité. Avec Avec les sans-papiers” (solidarity with those who have no papers)

We also sang two different songs, accompanied by drumming, which changed the tempo to an atmosphere more hopeful and aspirational, alongside the dominant anger of the chants.

20150502_145741 20150502_150551The aim was to offer energy and hope to support the powerful protests (including hunger strikes) being led by the women imprisoned inside.

The women detained at Yarl’s Wood could be seen very quickly waving out of the window and heard calling out. We stopped at one point to listen to them and Bruk took the microphone to shout back to them. She called their names – her friends – and told them she hadn’t forgotten them and we were here to fight for their release.

She said “I was with you in there, now I am out here. You will soon be out here too. We’re going to shut it down.” she said these things with such power in her voice, such determination. Their cries out to us were barely audible but I was overcome with emotion. The sound of their friend’s voice, the chanting and singing from the group, was undeniably a powerful bringer of hope and strength for them. One woman waved a piece of paper out of the window in time to our chants, for several hours – the whole time we were there.

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The passion and energy of the group, many of whom had been detained previously themselves, was incredibly humbling. Somehow I felt a fraud being there with my extremely privileged life experiences, opportunities and – crucially – my British passport. I have never been a patriot, or felt deserving of all the privileges that come with being white British and middle class, but to see the struggle at first hand that was faced by others made me feel ashamed to be part of a system that can inflict such suffering upon people at their most vulnerable hour.

Since her release, Bruk has been shipped up north to a flat far away from anyone she knows and she was clearly struggling. Our politics and our media have tried again and again to turn us against each other, scape-goating people, spreading fear of who they are and what they represent.

But the simple truth is, once we speak and see and understand each other, we don’t want to cause suffering and harm to others. We don’t want to ignore or be responsible for it.

I hope that My Heart Sings will continue to be in solidarity with Movement for Justice and people like Bruk who have not committed any crime, to be locked up for and treated like second class citizens. Too many people do not know the truth about these centres, run by private profit-making companies yet paid for by the taxes of all those working in this country.

If everyone had a chance to meet Bruk in the circumstances that I did that day, things would be so different.

Find out more about Yarl’s Wood here: http://www.channel4.com/news/yarls-wood-immigration-removal-detention-centre-investigation

Like ‘Movement for Justice’ on facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/movementforjustice

Email mfj@ueaa.net to get updates about future demonstrations and hear how you can support this work.

By Aurora, Raquel and Shilpa

Isolation is one of the worst things those suffering from injustice can face. This is exactly what the protest organised by Movement for Justice By Any Means Necessary managed to break down last Saturday 11th April 2015 at Harmondsworth and Colnbrook detention centres. A group of women from My Heart Sings were able to be there in solidarity with those who are at the frontline of the fight to shut down all immigration detention centres and free all migrants from criminalisation, violence and abuse and prosecution.

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The protest was vibrant and energised. There was strength and diversity of people (with some coming from as far afield as Newcastle and Glasgow) and so much noise! Everyone chipped in. A sound system and the Rhythms of Resistance samba band helped to focus the noise-making. But it was the combination of everyone’s efforts, with their voices and passion, the spontaneous use of pans and pots, and the singing, that made reaching those inside possible. They responded with equal passion and strength and a series of call and response ex-changes between the protesters and the detainees started:

“What do we want?” “- Freedom!”

“When do we want it?” “- Now!”

“Detention centres?” “- Shut them down!”

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Many of those who had themselves been unlawfully locked up spontaneously took the microphone to tell us about their struggles inside. We heard accounts of endless abuse and separation from loved ones. Some had landed on British soil with tourist or student visas issued by the British authorities in their home country only to arrive in Britain and to be arbitrarily detained, their attempts to reason and plead with the guards falling on deaf ears. Others were confined to isolation rooms for refusing to stay quiet and for demanding justice and dignity. But above all, we were inspired by their courage and determination not to give up their fight until all those who remain inside can be free again.

Music has long been part of struggles for justice and freedom (also here and here). Playing beats, chanting, dancing and singing not only bring us together and make us feel stronger, but are a powerful vehicle to release and express our feelings, hopes and convictions. Last Saturday, it meant those inside and outside the detention centre were able to communicate directly, momentarily softening the walls that separate freedom from oppression. We hope that this moment was a powerful boost for everyone involved in the struggle. The message was also carried to detainees from other detention centres through the use of mobile phones. It felt as if for a moment everyone could feel each other’s presence, together.

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My Heart Sings women were invited to get everyone singing “Something Inside so Strong”, at a point halfway through the demo. The final verse ‘we’re gonna do it anyway… we’re gonna do it ANYWAY!’ rose to a crescendo with more and more people joining in impromptu, the lyrics serving as a powerful vehicle to urge detainees to stay strong, a reminder that they are not alone. We also gave out sweets and inspiring quotes to help keep up energy.

Movement for Justice brings together detainees, ex-detainees and other allies to build powerful moments like this and to keep the pressure up on relevant authorities day to day. They are a small organisation and punch way above their weight. We’re grateful to them for the coordinating and planning work they do for such an important struggle.

This movement is building strength. Everyone involved has something inside so strong. Now is the time to support and do what we can do end detention and ensure freedom and dignity for all migrants.

  • The recent Channel 4 documentary about the abuse and violence directed at women held in Yarls Wood is here.
  • Corporate Watch’s investigations into conditions at Yarls Wood are reported here
  • To get more information about protests and other solidarity actions you can take, you can sign up to Movement for Justice’s mailing list by emailing mfj@ueaa.net
  • You can donate to help fund future demonstrations here – or in cash at a Tuesday night My Heart Sings women’s circle

‘It felt like such a positive day’, said one of the singers in the group. ‘We did something to stand against domestic violence and cuts to women’s services. But we also had a lot of fun, giving out flowers to women and encouraging people to listen and smile’.

International Women’s Day is marked by women around the world with parties, protests and exhibitions. It is a bitter-sweet day of honouring and strengthening the struggles of women for equality, safety and justice and also celebrating women – our achievements, our talents, our sense of community and our big hearts.

For International Women’s Day 2015, singers at the Tuesday night My Heart Sings singing circle visited Dalston in Hackney, East London.We sang at Ridley Road Market, Gillett Square, Dalston Junction Station and finished at Eastern Curve Garden.

We partnered with locally-based women’s organisation Latin American Women’s Aid (LAWA). LAWA provide important refuge and advice services to women and children experiencing domestic violence, focussing on the needs of women from Latin American and other Black and Minority Ethnnic backgrounds. LAWA are facing huge cuts in their funding from Islington council which would result of the closure of the refuge in Islington. The suggestion that LAWA’s refuge does not provide ‘value for money’ undermines the importance of culturally-specific, sometimes life-saving services for women who may find there are barriers to accessing mainstream services. We sang songs of togetherness, justice and hope while staff and volunteers from LAWA had a chance to collect petition signatures and talk to women and men passing by about their work.

If you would like to support the SaveLAWARefuge campaign, please sign the petition here and donate to their emergency fund here

At Ridley Road market we met up with Emashi African Dance, invited to the market by Andrea and Dalston Organisers. Ngozi and her singer and drummer friends led us in singing some hope-and-energy-filled spirituals – the clapping and dancing drew the attention of women traders from behind their stalls!

The singers also did a solidarity collection amongst ourselves to support both LAWA’s emergency fund and a women’s organisation in Palestine.

Thank you to everyone who took part – LAWA staff and volunteers for partnering with us, Zak and Rich who came along to film and take photos, Andrea, Emashi African Dance and Dalston Organisers and Eastern Curve Garden for the tea and coffee at the end of the day.

And singers! Many of you had not sung in public before. You were incredible. You are all amazing, courageous women (and children).

Here are some photos – thanks to Day, Gabriela and Rich for these:

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‘We came into this life crying and calling, wailing and singing and for the first few months of our life all our needs and instincts, our dissatisfactions and discoveries are immediately vocalised without apology and without censure. The, along comes language and the oppressive demands of family, of school and society.

For many, the road to becoming an adult involves being increasingly silenced to the point where the original call of the heart is but a dim echo in the corridors of hidden memory. Our healing begins with reclaiming this call of the heart which so many people have lost”

(The Healing Voice, P Newham)

On Saturday, I attended an excellent training day with vocal coach and music therapist Phoene Cave. (I did this as part of my new work project as a Singing for Better Breathing facilitator with the Sidney De Haan Centre for Arts and Health – more on this another time).

Phoene introduced a concept that is long familiar to me but powerfully summing it up in only five simple words. She asked workshop participants to ‘get out of the way’ of our voices.

When we sing, we use these wonderful bodies of ours to produce sound – the power of the breath, the vibration of the vocal cords and amplification of the sound, the shapes created by our lips and tongue and teeth. If we can talk, we can sing. And woah, we can often sing with gusto!

There are patterns of behaviour that we often add to the singing process that can restrict our voices. The tightening of the jaw, the neck, the stomach muscles. The locking of the knees. The holding of the shoulders, the tensing of the tongue.

Our bodies become used to these patterns over time – living in a busy city, sitting at computers, trying hard to make a living, look after loved ones, maintain social networks and all the rest of it. Our body responds to these challenges in certain ways.

In my years leading song workshops, I’ve learnt to take more and more time to support singers to specifically notice and loosen some of these ‘holding’ patterns. To ‘get out of the way’, basically, and let the body and our natural voice just do its thing. Exercises which are not just a cursory warm up before the main event of singing a song, but which can help us create some fundamental changes in our bodies.  And through awareness practices such as yoga, Alexander technique and mindfulness, I’ve been learning myself to ‘get out of the way’ of my own voice.

After investing more time in these exercises for the body, the breath and the voice, I’ve noticed a difference in the sound produced by singers I work with. Working with people of different ages and backgrounds and with all kinds of bodies. My aim is never to have us rehearse to perfection for performance – I’m interested in what’s happening in the room and in our bodies and hearts, right here and now. But I have noticed the circle of sound we create get stronger. Individual voices sound louder and more resonant – and something magic happens in the group sound, the collective vibrations we create. The singers notice it too.

When I see a change in posture, the dropping of the shoulders, a smile that came from nowhere, longer breaths being taken… well all this makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up in excitement.

Try this right now, as you’re reading. Without moving, just scan your attention over your body.  Your neck, your shoulders, your lower back, chest and belly, arms and fingers. Your hips, legs, feet and toes. Are you tensing, straining, curving, tightening any more than necessary? Take a few seconds to notice – and take a gentle tone with yourself as you do.

Is there a way to ‘get out of the way, to be in a more comfortable posture? Are you any looser, taller, wider, lighter? Does it change how you feel?

By Shilpa

On a Tuesday night two weeks ago, singers at the regular My Heart Sings women’s workshop in London broke out into a spontaneous burst of song. This happens every so often and S Club 7 or Nina Simone songs are usually culprit. This time, one of the elders of the group started singing:

Until the killing of black men, black mothers’ sons
Is as important as the killing of white men, white mothers’ sons

The line is from Ella’s Song, by the legendary singing and activist group Sweet Honey in the Rock. Everyone in the room joined in for the refrain:

We who believe in freedom cannot rest
We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes


 

Why did this song bubble up? Everyone was moving chairs and clearing away tea cups, about to go home after singing together. Some in the group had been discussing an upcoming London vigil in solidarity with Black communities in Ferguson, USA. It had just been announced there that the death of the young, Black, unarmed Mike Brown at the hands of a White and armed policeman was not going lead to a process of accountability and justice. The murder of 12 year old Tamir Rice by another White police officer in Cleveland has also recently happened.

When we met the following Tuesday night, some singers were planning to go along to support a protest at Westfield shopping centre. This ‘Die-In’ protest was called by London Black Revs and others in solidarity with the family of Eric Garner in New York. Eric was strangled to death by a White police officer. The protest was well-attended and powerful, interrupting late-night shopping and traffic on one of the busiest shopping days of the year. It was led by mostly young and women activists, many of whom were arrested despite the non-violent nature of the protest. I also recognised a number of people who have been campaigning against institutional racism in the UK police and justice systems, often after losing a loved one to racist police violence. Protestors of different ages and racial heritage used their voices to loudly sing and shout chants together: ‘Black Lives Matter’ and ‘No Justice No Peace’.

Not needing to clutch for power, not needing the light just to shine on me
I need to be one in the number as we stand against tyranny

Using our voices in chanting and song can help get our message across. It helps to convey anger, passion and demands for social change. Song is also helpful for processing our own emotional whirlwinds and building a sense of solidarity between people. It can help tell stories of those before us, whose work can give us strength, wisdom and inspiration.

baker-nbcElla Jo Baker, Press conference, 1960

Ella’s Song, written in 1988, is about Ella Baker, a central activist and community organiser in the movement for Civil Rights. When outsiders think of the Civil Rights struggle, we usually think of iconic moments: Martin Luther King Jnr saying ‘I Have A Dream’ and Rosa Parks’ refusal to move to the back of the bus. Ella’s contribution is often unsung – a lot of her work was behind the scenes. She brought ‘ordinary people’ together, building skills, confidence and leadership within hundreds of communities. Her work contributed to sit-ins, to mass voter registration, to huge, democratically-run conferences (which often featured powerful songs). Though she was great at delivering rousing speeches on a podium, the genius of her community organising approach was to build relationships and trust between people and support them to take action together to challenge segregation laws.

Struggling myself don’t mean a whole lot, I’ve come to realize
That teaching others to stand up and fight is the only way my struggle survives

Ella was known to say ‘Strong people don’t need strong leaders’. She was well-respected and looked up to by people she worked with, but her focus was on developing the potential within people to create change for themselves. In her seventies, she was given the fond title of “Fundi,” a Swahili word meaning a person who learns a craft and teaches it to the next generation.

And that which touches we most is that I had a chance to work with people
Passing on to others that which was passed on to me

Ella worked particularly with students. She spoke of the need to reflect and understand the past, but she felt that the future lay in the activism of young people. In the current wave of activism in response to racist police brutality, we are seeing the leadership of young people in the UK and across the world.

The older I get the better I know that the secret of my going on
Is when the reins are in the hands of the young, who dare to run against the storm

There was sometimes friction between Ella and other leaders in the civil rights organisations she worked with, particularly men. She recognised the need to address wider issues linked to race-based discrimination (eg. income, education, housing and health inequalities), not creating a single-issue silo. Ella was committed to unlocking the ‘group-centred leadership’ of communities she organised. She disagreed with the some of the methods of Martin Luther King Jnr who preferred working in hierarchies and top-down ‘charismatic’ leadership. She said ‘We cannot lead a struggle that involves masses of people without identifying with the people and without getting the people to understand what their potentials are, what their strengths are’ (source for this paragraph: Freedom Bound, Grant, 1998).

I’m a woman who speaks in a voice and I must be heard
At times I can be quite difficult, I’ll bow to no man’s word

Black women are taking leadership roles in organising many of the current anti-racist protests all over the world. Some people have pointed out that the death of Black women at the hands of police must be highlighted alongside the more high profile cases involving men.

Ella’s methods are still relevant – perhaps even more than ever – to anti-racist organising in the US, and in the UK and globally and to all social justice issues. This kind of radical community empowerment work is still usually not given the airtime and resources it needs – it is considered slow, unpredictable, not easily packageable into ‘quick wins’ by people in positions of power.

Ella’s Song is a beautiful vehicle for people to learn about Ella’s contribution. For me, it opened up curiosity and learning about Ella and other radical social change leaders across the world. I worked to actively learn more about Black Feminism and the racism faced by Black people across the world, which is often very different to what I have experienced, as a woman with Indian heritage in the UK.

Ella’s values and successes give me more confidence in my participatory methods as an activist, trainer and song-leader working alongside communities who are leading the way to change the oppressive systems they are part of. When I share the song with other community activists, it often it helps them to see their own methods of creating social change in a new light. I first introduced the song to My Heart Sings in a workshop for women of colour, where we discussed overcoming racism and how we make our workshops inclusive for women of all backgrounds. I’ve sung it with other groups since. We take turns to sing the verses in pairs and usually repeat the refrain all together.

Songs of freedom like this have also become woven into the story of my own personal struggle against day to day oppression. At challenging moments – facing up to sexist or racist or overly hierarchical thinking, a line often goes through my mind and I feel a little bit calmer and stronger. I’m very grateful to Ella and Sweet Honey for Ella’s song. What a gift this is – a supportive and uplifting moment, offered from women of a different generation and hundreds of miles away.

Sweet Honey in the Rock have just released a beautiful and piercing version of Silent Night for the festive season.

The lyrics for Ella’s song, interspersed throughout this blog in italics are made up of Ella’s own words. The song is written by Bernice Johnson Reagon and copyrighted to Songtalk Publishing Co.

This blog is dedicated to Susi Miller, a true Fundi for community development learning in the UK.

Explore My Voice – a special My Heart Sings workshop on Saturday 22nd November, 1.30 – 4.30pm

An afternoon of singing and discussion to encourage curiosity and understanding about our voices.

We talk, whisper, shout.. We say how we feel, challenge, soothe, demand, persuade.. We sing, we cry, we scream….

Our voices are the instruments for all sorts of magic to happen.

Yet we live in a culture where our voices may have been judged and subdued, especially if we’re women.

‘You shouldn’t speak up you’ll get into trouble’

‘Girls should be seen, not heard’

‘My teacher told me my singing is terrible’

‘I should hold back from speaking the truth if I want to be promoted’

Voice quote

Exploring our voice can be healing and strengthening.

In this workshop we will take some time out to do just that.

What will we do?

This workshop will help us explore the following questions in a gentle and playful way.

  • What is my voice – especially, what is my natural voice?
  • How do I feel about my voice?
  • What does my voice help me to do?
  • What is great about my voice?
  • What can I do to look after my voice and strengthen it?

We’ll do a blend of relaxation and vocal exercises, singing songs and some group discussion. There’ll be a break for tea and snacks. Max group size is 16.

Who is this workshop for?

A workshop for women – especially for women working on health, well-being, education, community or justice issues. Open to all women over 18.

It doesn’t matter if you have not done any group singing before – complete beginners and those who say ‘but I can’t sing!’ are always very welcome to My Heart Sings workshops.

Venue:

St Lukes Community Centre, Central St, London, EC1 8AJ (nearest tube is Old St, venue accessible for wheelchair users). Please arrive by 1.15 for a 1.30 start.

Suggested contributions:

£5 – £30.

Suggested standard contribution is £20. If this is too much to manage, please contribute what you can afford (if £5 is not currently possible, please contact me about a free place). If you contribute more than £20, you are making a solidarity contribution to support someone else to attend.

Your contribution will help to pay for venue, refreshment and materials costs. Any extra will go to Shilpa – My Heart Sings does not currently receive funding and your contribution helps me keep doing this work. A £5 deposit will be requested to secure your place.

Booking process:

Please email info@myheartsings.co.uk with a contact number and a few sentences about your reasons for attending this workshop. I’ll send you a registration form and details for how to make a £5 deposit, which will secure your place.

MHS self care quote