Looking Out Reaching Out: Leeds Composers Celebrate Community With New Song
Created by West Yorkshire-based composers Boff Whalley (Chumbawamba) and Thanda Gumede, a new song inspired by the county and its inhabitants will be premiered online as part of Sound UK’s nationwide project A Song for Us on Wednesday 2 February 2022.
‘Looking Out, Reaching Out’ is one of 14 County songs written to mark the struggles of the past 18 months. It’s co-commissioned by Opera North, and it aims to celebrate communities and the power of music in bringing them together.
“Written by people from across the county”
It will be recorded in front of a live audience at the Howard Assembly Room, Leeds over the coming weeks. The two composers will be joined by local ensembles The Commoners Choir. The “peculiar, feisty, celebratory, witty, angry and inclusive” collective founded in Leeds by Boff – and the cross-community Harmony choir from Burmantofts.
‘Looking Out, Reaching Out’ emerged from words written by people from across the county. As Boff explains: “We asked people some simple questions about their connections to West Yorkshire and what that means to them. We asked them how they think West Yorkshire connects to the rest of the world, and how the rest of the world comes into this county to influence it. We wanted a song that wasn’t just inward-looking, but that reached out to the world. A song that was inclusive and welcoming, that put West Yorkshire into a context of the planet and its people”, he says.
Born in Burnley, Boff moved to Leeds to study at the University in 1981. He formed anarcho-punks Chumbawamba the following year. And he’s since spent most of his life in the city. After 25 years of recording and touring with the band, he embarked on a new career. A writer of plays, and large-scale community musicals. He also wrote books about another of his passions: fell-running around Leeds and beyond.
“We wanted our song to dig deep”
His co-writer, singer, composer and educator Thanda is originally from Durban, the city in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. It has its own surprising ties with West Yorkshire. “My best friend’s grandfather is Obed Mlaba, the former Mayor of Durban, who was behind the twinning of Durban and Leeds in 1999”, he says. “Boff and I were in agreement that we wanted our song to dig deep. As a migrant worker I personally felt reticent about speaking for the natives of God’s Own Country. So reaching out to the people of West Yorkshire to ask them what West Yorkshire means to them felt like a fitting route to take”.
Looking Out, Reaching Out also reflects on the pandemic that has kept us all homebound: “Lockdown made us feel separated from the whole world”, Thanda says. “But music kept me sane and gave me purpose. Through it, I was able to connect with so many people around the world. So many were suffering. But singing remotely with my choir in Otley helped me to connect with senior citizens who may have been neglected. I would stream performances globally with amazing organisations across the U.K to raise money towards Covid relief, and perform phone ‘concerts’ with those who couldn’t access Zoom”.
Alongside A Song for West Yorkshire, Sound UK has commissioned 14 other County Songs for A Song for Us. These have come from artists including Gavin Bryars (the East Riding), This Is The Kit and Bucky, and Gwenno.
Maija Handover, Director, Sound UK said: “A Song for Us celebrates our communities during the COVID 19 pandemic and beyond. It seeks to encapsulate the coming together and solidarity. It recognises the nationwide losses we have experienced, whether at a distance or personally. Above all it celebrates the power of music to bring us together, whether as creators, performers or listeners.”
To explore the music map visit asongforus.org. Here, you can also share an original composition, or song that has meant something special to you during lockdown.
To see the premiere of A Song for West Yorkshire: Looking Out, Reaching Out head to the website at 12.30pm on Wednesday, 2nd February 2022.