Missing the theatre? Desperate to go to a gig? This is the next best thing – a mesmerising soundwalk around the city’s streets.
Culture has been a little thin on the ground lately. COVID-19 has brought almost every kind of entertainment to a standstill, but Opera North refuses to give in. From ONDemand shows to virtual choirs, they’ve served up a packed calendar of events throughout the pandemic – and now, they’re bringing us back together with a safe, socially distanced soundwalk around Leeds.
So what, pray tell, is a soundwalk? It’s a 40-minute stroll around Leeds with a special soundtrack inspired by the very streets you’re walking on. You’ll pick up a pair of headphones in Victoria Gate and follow a 2-kilometre route around the city. Trigger points attached to lampposts will change the music, so you can see the world around you in a new way, with its own unique soundscape.
As You Are is a major new commission for South African-born cellist, composer and improviser Abel Selaocoe. “It’s a piece about human resilience, healing, and also a celebration of different African cultures. What I find really interesting is that you can find so many cultures in this space of central Leeds, and As You Are is about celebrating that,” he explained. “We’ve combined different facets of my experience, being both a classical musician and an African musician, and brought the Chorus and Orchestra of Opera North together with soloists from all over Africa.”
He ain’t kidding. The cast list reads like a who’s who of African music. Abel plays cello, alongside Zimbabwean mbira player Anna Mudeka and Moroccan guimbri player Simo Lagnawi, while Ivorian djembe player, Sidiki Dembélé, adds his own rhythmic beats into the mix. They are accompanied by Opera North’s ever-talented orchestra and chorus, who’ve embraced this new musical style with the same passion and enthusiasm they apply to everything.
“There was such strong desire from us all in the room to make his music true to the man. It was so refreshing to work with a composer first-hand – and what a talented man he is too!” Miranda Bevin, Soprano with the Chorus of Opera North, explained. “Vocally brave, singing with such conviction, encouraging us to make sounds with chest resonance and mouth clicks, as we added musical layer upon layer. It was far removed from the operatic world, and yet, as we’re so accustomed to listening to one another, such a pleasurable opportunity to make music together.”
What they’ve created here is nothing short of sensational. The music takes you on a journey. It starts with a walk to County Arcade. It’s the beginning of the adventure, a climb upwards, so it has a lot of energy and a lot of singing – Abel has used Tanzanian polyphony, which means the chorus sing over one another in a beautiful rhythm, and Simo adds long, uplifting lines as he plays guimbri, a Moroccan lyre. As you reach the end of the arcade, you’ll hit a huge drum solo, a celebration as you head towards the river.
The route takes you down to Leeds Bridge, where you’re encouraged to pause and take in the view as Abel’s soundtrack washes over you. “Water is a very important aspect of African culture, we use it as a way of healing – whether by looking at it or by taking it in. That really got me inspired to find ways to express what water can do for us,” he explained. “I think sometimes it seems a trivial part of our life, because it’s always there, but I really wanted to zone in on the importance of what it does for our bodies, and what it does for our minds.”
From here, you’ll head back over the bridge and up Call Lane to the Corn Exchange, where you’ll end, as you began, with a sense of hope and joy. This is a kind of energetic music, the kind you dance to, and why the hell not? After all, this has been a challenging year and we deserve to let loose a little. As you step into the Corn Exchange, that big circular room, filled with colour, you’ll be surrounded by rhythms that run in a never-ending loop. Anna Mudeka’s solo soars above the ensemble that ends the walk on a high.
As You Are: A Soundwalk for Leeds runs at 30-minute intervals from 10:30am to 4pm, every day except Mondays between Tuesday 15th and Tuesday 22nd December 2020, then every day except Mondays from Saturday 9th to Sunday 31st January 2021. Tickets are available on a pay-as-you-feel basis – get yours before they sell out!