Welcome to the Bristol Reggae Orchestra!

Welcome to the Bristol Reggae Orchestra!

Written by Tina Brown

Welcome to the Bristol Reggae Orchestra! A collective of around 25 local musicians who all love reggae! The musicians come from various musical backgrounds and experiences, bringingus a unique, inspiring and uplifting project that has the community at its heart.

In early 2010, Chris Williams, a local Jamaican resident spoke to Stella Quinlivan (former co-ordinator of the St. Pauls Learning Centre). ‘What St. Paul’s needs’, he said, ‘is a reggae
orchestra. What are you going to do about it’. Stella was intrigued by this idea, and researched Reggae Orchestras to find that there was only one in existence at that time. Norma Daykin, (who is the founding Music Director of the Orchestra), Stella Quinlivan, and Chino Odimba got talking to organisations, managing to secure funding from the Director of St. Georges for a three-month project.

‘To promote the idea, we put on a reggae quiz and a talk about the project at the learning centre. The hall was packed with local residents, musicians and all sorts of people interested in the idea. The first rehearsal was interesting. It must have been a huge challenge for Norma. The people varied in musical experience and reggae knowledge. Not everyone could read music or understood about playing in an ensemble. Norma was amazing at bringing people together musically and at translating reggae into an orchestral format’.

Their debut concert in the renowned St. Georges concert hall was a ‘seething, toe tapping, dancehall sell out’. They have since performed at local festivals in the St. Paul’s community, for refugee week where they played with refugees from different cultures bringing varied influences to the music, at the Harbour festival, The Trinity Centre and all around the South West.

‘There was a crowd of several thousand at the Bristol Harbour festival. They loved our particular blend of crowd-pleasing world music, with commanding solo’s and an infectious beat’.

The ethos of the Bristol Reggae orchestra is well grounded in community values, accessibility, providing ‘educational opportunities’, inclusion, equality, and most importantly, having fun, and making music together in a relaxed environment. Reggae is at the core of this orchestra and the primary inspiration. There are also influences from Jazz, Ska, South American, Iranian, Sudanese and Classical, and the audience is entertained with a mix of original compositions as well as arrangements of well-known Reggae classics.

‘We like to to include people who have little or no prior experience of working in ensemble, who perhaps don’t read music easily and who have little experience in composing or arranging music. This is how it started, and these things we endeavour to develop in the individual members of the group. Our aim is to advance the art of music, particularly Reggae and music of Jamaican origin for the benefits of the public by performing such music to the public and providing opportunities to develop musical skills’.

An orchestra is an ensemble of many different musical voices and with that comes a range of diverse musical influences that add an ‘individual’ flavour to the orchestra as a whole, and as a ‘new member’ of this orchestra, with limited experience in ‘live performance’ and relearning ‘music theory’, I have indeed found this to be a welcoming and supportive environment, giving me the opportunity and accessibility to develop and improve my musical skills’

‘We have been ‘researched’ too for the benefits we bring to health and wellbeing amongst members and the listening audience and we are listed in the US department of Arts and Culture as an exemplar for community music and also here through Norma’s research, as one of two exemplars for inclusive community music making’.

David Insua Cao, the current musical director, has done a fantastic job at leading the Orchestra to ever-greater heights of musical cohesion and achievement. He will sadly be leaving us as his work is taking him to another city, so we are currently looking for a new Musical Director.

The heart of the Bristol Reggae Orchestra lies in St.Pauls, the beating, rhythmic heart of Bristol, however, we welcome musicians from the wider community. Rehearsals are held every other Monday at the Malcolm X Centre. If you love reggae and you love making music, expert or beginner, come and join The Bristol Reggae Orchestra! We would like more trumpets, strings, percussion and woodwind – including saxophone, and a drummer as well as a musical director.

For more information contact:

membership@bristolreggaeorchestra.com and check out their web page using this link.
For enquiries about bookings, press or media contact: Stella Quinlivan – stelquin@googlemail.com