Music

CBeebies star YolanDa Brown: ‘It’s proven that playing music together helps children build confidence’


Only a pandemic could have forced YolanDa Brown, award-winning saxophonist, broadcaster, philanthropist and racing car enthusiast, into the pitlane.

“We played our last show in March to a full house in Melbourne, which was supposed to coincide with the Australian Grand Prix,” the musician reflects.

“Then the tour was cut short and we had to come home. It’s not the year I planned. But I’ve always had an inner drive where if one door closes, I’ll find another one or a window to jump through.”

The double MOBO-award winner, from Redbridge, east London, is known to CBeebies viewers as the irrepressible presenter of YolanDa’s Band Jam, the series which introduces the foot-stamping joys of collective music-making to primary school children.

A presenter on Radio 2, Radio 4 and Jazz FM, Brown’s own acclaimed albums mash up jazz, soul and reggae. Her passionate belief that music must be accessible to all, has led her to take on a vocal campaigning role.

1,000 primaries sign up for YolanDa’s lessons

Already the chair of the UK’s largest music education charity, Youth Music, YolanDa is on a mission to ensure every primary school in Britain offers high-quality musical opportunities to pupils.

She has signed up 1,000 schools to a programme, designed with online education provider Twinkl, which will this month deliver bespoke physical learning resources, lesson plans, as well as videos featuring YolanDa setting musical challenges, to help improve access to music in primaries.

With Covid denying young children the opportunity to sing in class, or learn the recorder – a mixed blessing, perhaps – it is the most vulnerable who are losing out, she fears. “We need music to support the mental health of our young people. Music can help them understand the emotions they are going through,” Brown says.

“It’s proven that playing music together helps children build confidence and team-building skills. Learning how to listen to music improves empathy.”

Music resources for home learning

“We want to help teachers integrate music into the national curriculum but our online resources have been designed for home learning too if schools close again.”

“Parents don’t have to be musical. You can start a beat banging on the dinner table and get a sing-along going. Just that interaction as a family can be uplifting in these trying times.”

Married to a music promoter husband, Brown has negotiated a lockdown Christmas with their daughter, aged six and an 11 month-old, already inducted into the musical life.

“She was born last January but that didn’t stop us touring. We took her with us,” says YolanDa, who has toured with Diana Krall, The Temptations and Billy Ocean.

The toddler is imbibing the same musical influences that inspired YolanDa, who was born to Jamaican parents. “My dad had an amazing record collection. He loved all genres from classical to opera, ska to reggae and I’m so thankful I was hearing all that different music at home.”

“I played violin, drums and piano from aged six. I found the sax when I was 13. It was my first wind instrument and I didn’t look back after that. It felt like my voice, a natural extension and I just loved playing along with records.”

Improvisation is key

“That’s why when I’m on tour I always go to local schools or conservatoires and hold workshops about improvisation. It’s about saying what you want to say through your instrument.”

A live concert uniting the primary schools which have signed up to the Band Jam-themed lesson guides will be streamed online in February.

However YolanDa doesn’t know when she will be able to tour her new album, a collection of extended versions of the most popular songs from Band Jam, recorded during lockdown.

She fears for the sweaty, grassroots jazz clubs which first gave her a platform. “It’s never-wracking because we don’t know how long this shutdown will go on for. I have friends who work in those venues who’ve been made redundant or could be when furlough ends.”

She says: ‘Parents don’t have to be musical. You can start a beat banging on the dinner table’

Music clubs close down fear

“The venues are closed to keep us safe but they also need help to keep their heads above water so that they are there when we are allowed to tour again.”

Brexit, with no visa-free travel for musicians agreed under the Government’s trade deal, is an added complication. “It’s difficult enough to make travel plans right now. What if there are extra taxes for taking instruments across borders? I travel with a minimum of four instruments.”

If anyone can make the logistics work it is Brown, who took a business management degree before committing to a music career.

She has observed how the music industry itself has pledged to improve diversity at an executive level as a result of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Racism ‘can be unspoken’

“I’ve never experienced anything racist said directly to my face, although sometimes it can be unspoken,” she says. “The changes should create more opportunities and also people from diverse backgrounds need to step up and take those opportunities, and do them well. When the opportunity to chair Youth Music came up, I didn’t think twice.”

Brown is frustrated that recording for the next series of Band Jam, which relies on a raucous studio audience of five-to-seven year olds, has had to be delayed. She had to mime to a pre-recorded track of herself playing saxophone for this year’s socially-distanced CBeebies Christmas panto, an experience YolanDa found “surreal”.

The sooner live concerts, in all their sweaty glory, can return, the better. “The atmosphere at the last Melbourne show was electric. It’s that energy that drives us. I don’t think it’s the same playing to a couple of people sitting at a table.”

The YolanDa’s Band Jam album is released on January 29



READ SOURCE

READ  Grimes shares details of "one night only" show, 'BIO-HAQUE'

Leave a Reply

This website uses cookies. By continuing to use this site, you accept our use of cookies.