Carleen Anderson leads music for change in Brighton

Get ready for music with a purpose as part of the Brighton Festival.

Carleen Anderson credit Hassan Hajjaj
Carleen Anderson credit Hassan Hajjaj

Brighton Dome Concert Hall is the venue on Tuesday, May 22 at 7.30pm for A Change is Gonna Come – Music for Human Rights, featuring Carleen Anderson, Nikki Yeoh, Nubya Garcia and Speech Debelle

With their talents ranging from soul and jazz to rap, they will explore the power of protest songs.

On stage together for the first time, they will perform unique interpretations of iconic songs from the time of civil rights through to today.

The concert will also feature powerful new compositions by Carleen and Nikki highlighting the ongoing fight for equal human rights.

Carleen is musical director for the project which began when she was approached by commissioners Sound UK.

“It has been wonderful to be able to put this together. With this project, it was initially about civil rights when they first approached me.

“They wanted me to arrange the songs and so forth, but I said I wanted to expand it to take in human rights so that it would have a broader appeal and affect everyone.

“And that’s what I have always been writing about. When I was seven years old, I was playing the piano by ear, and my grandfather heard me making up songs about whatever had been happening at school that day, like Susie stood on my toe or whatever!

“He thought I could make much better use of the facility that I had.

“He was minister of our local church in Houston, Texas, and he tasked me with writing a song every week for the choir to sing.

“I was seven. The choir was aged 12 to 18, and I had to come up with a topic every week, something that was happening, like maybe invalids in the community or maybe problems in the larger world.

“There were always wars going on, just as there are all sorts of wars going on now. My job every week was to find a topic and write a song and teach it to the choir.

“I was very, very fortunate that he set me on that path. That made me a story-teller through music.

“In my career people seem to reference me more as a singer, but my first position as an artist is as a story-teller.

“He had put me on a course which has served me very well. When they approached me for this project, it just felt like it was continuous.”

The point, of course, is that music really can change things. “I think it has that potential as all art does. Art reflects what is happening in society.”

And that’s where the hope lies, for all of us, Carleen believes.

“Art gives us the promise of the future that could be. You can get hate-filled music, and you can get anger-filled music, but you can also get hope-filled music.”

For other stories by Phil, see: