Charlotte Dryden, Director of Belfast’s Oh Yeah Centre will deliver a talk in Lebanon today (Tuesday, February 12).
The CEO will be discussing the role of music in community engagement and the success of the Oh Yeah Centre at the Create Syria Forum (February 12-13) in Beirut.
The event, which will bring together art practitioners from across Lebanon, Syria, and other conflict-affected places, is a collaboration between the British Council and Ettijahat- Independent Culture and aims to reflect on the value of arts in times of crisis.
Oh Yeah Centre, established in 2007, has always aimed to create an environment where young people feel welcome and able to express themselves, and currently offers a number of opportunities for young people, where they can create, practice, network, produce and enjoy music.
Speaking about the music hub and its creation, Charlotte said: “Oh Yeah as an organisation was set up as we understood how music can, and does change lives. During the Troubles, Punk brought people together and as a form of expression gave people an opportunity to reject sectarianism. Forty years on music still has that role to play, with many artists now promoting a sense of community, positivity and anger through their music”
“When Oh Yeah was created there was no dedicated music hub that could contain a blossoming industry, rehearsal spaces, a live music venue and opportunities for young people to gather regardless of their colour or gender. It’s been a long, difficult process for us, but I feel we’re slowly getting there.”
While in Lebanon, Charlotte will be talking about a number of Oh Yeah initiatives such as Volume Control, the award-winning music mentoring scheme for young people aged 14-19 and Women’s Work, a 4-day festival aiming to bring more women into music.
She said: “Volume Control was set up seven years ago to allow under 18s to enjoy music in a safe space, but also for them to become future promoters, music industry creators and workers. Last year we received funding to take this concept further and out into the local community and engage with young people we didn’t have an opportunity to work with before by partnering with organisations such as New Lodge Arts and Shankhill Alternatives. We recently became an accredited OCN centre and through the experience, these young people not only now have the opportunity to avail of high quality musicians and mentoring, but also receive qualifications and a new-found belief that they could develop a career in the music industry.”
“Women’s Work whereas, has not only given women the space and confidence to showcase their talent, but has also created a platform to discuss diversity and gender imbalance.”
Through the visit, Charlotte hopes to bring back contacts and knowledge and also develop new projects for ethnic minorities.
She said: “When it comes to popular and urban music creators, Northern Ireland is still many years behind the rest of the UK in terms of how diverse we are, but at Oh Yeah, we’re starting to see some cultural and societal shifts and changes. We’re seeing an increase in Black artists applying for our music programmes and attending our gigs. It’s very exciting and becoming a more diverse city can only benefit us all, especially in terms of our local music scene.
“Going to Beirut is an amazing opportunity and I hope through it, that at Oh Yeah we can use the experience engage with a wider group of people through music in particular with the Syrian refugee community where we would hope to develop a project.”
Speaking ahead of Charlotte’s departure, Jonathan Stewart, Director, British Council Northern Ireland, said:
“We’re really proud to have identified this opportunity for Charlotte to share her expertise and experience in building communities through music. The Oh Yeah Centre does a wonderful job in creating a safe space for young people, and inspiring the next generation of producers and performers.
“This visit builds on Northern Ireland’s experience in peace and reconciliation and we hope through this, to continue to make connections, share best practice and find new ways to overcome some of our biggest hurdles both here in Northern Ireland and with emerging partnerships, such as in Lebanon.”
The British Council is the UK’s leading cultural relations organisation. For more information on current opportunities in Northern Ireland, visit nireland.britishcouncil.org, or follow on Twitter: @BCouncil_NI