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World Heart Beat Music Academy in SW London, is a charity which brings young people, aged 5-25, together with world-class musicians to share their love of music.
The charity, founded in 2009 by Sahana Gero MBE, and with trustees such as James Joseph, promotes music as a universal form of communication with the aim of transforming the lives of young people.
Recently announced, the Academy are proud to receive a grant of £67,514 from the Government’s £1.57 billion Culture Recovery Fund to support the organisation in its great work going forwards.
We caught up with Sahana to find out more about the Academy, its backstory and the Academy’s aims and aspirations for the future.
Hey Sahana, we’re really happy to be sharing such a wonderful organisation via ConnectsMusic. Congratulations on receiving the recovery fund! What was the initial inspiration behind forming the WHB Music Academy?
I believe that music is the one thing that can unite us all. Music cuts through all barriers and boundaries that humanity creates, whether it’s education, political, economic or linguistic. If there was a music academy on every street corner – like there is a Starbucks or is it a Costa’s now! then we will really see a ‘real’ community. In every society, going back to ancient times, where there are more musicians and artists present it has been more prosperous in every way.
Has the academy been in planning for a long time? How did it start?
The name World Heart Beat came to me in a dream. I had already been successfully travelling as a musician all over the world to more than 50 countries, whilst also giving workshops. I was running a small grassroots concert band (the 51st State Band) which was totally under the radar that then became the largest in the country. It was founded in 2000, and all the time rooted in giving children and young people the chance to learn a musical instrument and play. It was just a matter of time before I found an abandoned warehouse, persuaded the landlords to let us have it free of charge (in exchange for some radiators as the place had no heating!) and then later on they only charged us a peppercorn rent. It’s such a beautiful music academy based in Kimber Rd, Wandsworth and bursting with creativity and musical energy.
Could you tell us a bit more about the broad range of music experiences that people who visit your academy can explore and learn from?
We provide a rich programme from grassroots to early-career level, learning and performing music from a breadth of music genres, reflective of the heritages of our diverse community. This includes Jazz, Asian, Brazilian, Celtic, Eastern European, Gypsy, Latin & Reggae music. We engage thousands more people annually through workshops with schools and community groups, and performances at local festivals and eminent music venues. We also offer professional development through our Music Leaders programme, which supports advanced students to achieve sustainable creative careers.
One of our new projects is piloting an exemplar online music education and performance programme, engaging South London’s Latin American and South Asian communities, which showcases world-class musicians and spotlights music from their cultures. The online programme includes a caipira course (a Brazilian ten-string guitar) a sitar course, an introduction to Latin-American music and South Asian music. Please do get in touch if you’d like to find out more!
The Academy is directed towards young people. Do you feel that musical encouragement at a young age is important for overall development?
Musical encouragement from an early age is so important; there is much research out there in relation to brain development and how music is the one thing that helps reduce the educational divide. Music, and specifically instrumental learning, is best done early, but can happen at any age. It teaches discipline, working toward goal-oriented tasks and then the enjoyment of achievement plus they make friends too and are socially stimulated. Learning music teaches children how to relate to others, share and listen. This has so many real-world applications and sets up a positive mindset of goal, achievement, reward and enjoyment. Every musician feels enriched just by being able to play and share it with others whether playing in an ensemble or performing to an audience. Learning to play a musical instrument opens up doors and opportunities and gives them a community. It is absolutely the most important thing that children and young people can take part in when growing up.
The last year has brought to light many issues within our society, especially the widening socio-economic gap and the effects this has on young people and their futures. A focus on these problems seems to be a core ethos of the Academy. Could you tell us a bit more about how WHB Academy is addressing these issues?
World Heart Beat’s mission is to break down barriers into music for disadvantaged young people aged 5-25 living in Wandsworth and surrounding boroughs. We work with grassroots partners to engage those most in need and promote greater social inclusion by bringing disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged young people together. 70% of students are from Black & ethnically diverse backgrounds; 70% low-income households, 8% disabled; 15% ‘at-risk’ (recent refugee/migrant, risk of exclusion, single parent household, etc.) We engage a further 2,000 young people annually through workshops in school/community settings in some of London’s most deprived estates.
In light of Black Lives Matter, we have been closely working with the Julian Joseph Jazz Academy and together we have been live streaming concerts that highlight the ongoing need for global awareness of racial injustice and discrimination, and to promote messages of hope and unity.
The next concert in our series is Operation Forest which will be livestreamed on World Heart Beat’s YouTube channel on Sunday 23rd May at 7pm. Two of our young musicians who have benefitted from both academies, Carla Flores, and Ava Joseph came up with the concept when they were no longer able to meet in person at the academy. They wanted to come together with their fellow musicians virtually and express themselves in light of Black Lives Matter whilst also wanting to give back to World Heart Beat, which has supported their musical learning since the academy began.
The Academy continued to run programmes throughout Covid, how did you adapt to life online and what did you feel the young people involved took away from this experience?
Our musician teachers embraced the opportunity to continue to mentor and help the young people on their musical journey throughout Covid. I am delighted to say that the academy performed an extraordinary task, linking up over 585 online classes per week and have successfully engaged in online teaching (be it group or one to one lessons) across all instrumental classes. Furthermore, World Heart Beat still managed to provide an unbelievable service to young people, mentoring and teaching over 300 students weekly through digital means when face-to-face was not permitted, engage some 215 students through two lockdown videos, record and made over 30 other music videos, shared on social media and put on a series of live streamed concerts.
Do you think the relationship between music and expression has become more widely relevant in the last year?
No – because music and expression has always been relevant – music is expression.
If anything, it has become less relevant because such a low priority has been placed on music. It has been proven a million times before that music is needed to help children learn, develop cognitively and to help children catch up yet the Government has announced that it plans to impose a 50 percent funding cut to “high cost” subjects at higher education (HE) in England, including music (see MU article here). This is because music and the arts are not among its “strategic priorities”. It’s insane – nothing else!
What are your aspirations for the Academy? How do you see it developing over the next couple of years?
Since we launched our Academy, our student cohort and community reach has grown exponentially.
I am delighted to be able to share our plans for our vibrant new Education Centre and Concert Venue in the prestigious new Embassy Gardens development at Nine Elms, one of Europe’s most significant regeneration projects and which is set to open at the end of this year.
Our ambitious vision for World Heart Beat at Embassy Gardens is to create a truly distinctive new space, which will enable us to extend and benefit 1000’s more young people wanting to learn music, and related creative industries. The state-of-the-art boutique concert hall will enable musicians to perform a breadth of music from across the globe, as well as becoming a destination venue for London. Through bringing people together in our new space, we hope to engender pride and play a role in social cohesion in an evolving community. We believe we are creating a beautiful and inspirational place, a ‘United Nations’ of music, and we hope you would like to be part of it all with us!