Chumbawamba founder helps create musical map of pandemic songs

A FOUNDING member of Chumbawamba co-wrote a song celebrating the communities of West Yorkshire.

Looking Out, Reaching Out, by Boff Whalley and singer / songwriter Thanda Gumede, both of Otley, will be premiered as part of Sound UK’s national project A Song for Us.

Co-commissioned by Opera North, Looking Out, Reaching Out is one of 14 “County Songs” written to mark pandemic struggles and celebrate local communities and the power of music to bring them together.

It will be recorded in front of a live audience at the Howard Assembly Room, Leeds, and premiered on asongforus.org on Wednesday 2 February at 12:30 p.m. The two composers will be joined by local ensembles The Commoners Choir, a “peculiar, spirited, festive, witty, angry and inclusive” collective founded by Boff, and the Leeds-based Harmony Choir.

“We asked people about their connection to West Yorkshire and what it means to them,” Boff said. “We wanted a song that was not just introverted, but open to the world, inclusive and welcoming.”

Born in Burnley, Boff moved to Leeds to study at university in 1981 and trained the anarcho-punks Chumbawamba the following year. After 25 years of recording and touring with the band, co-writing their hit Tubthumping, he embarked on a career of writing plays, community musicals and books about another of his passions, running.

Thanda is from Durban in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. He said: “As a migrant worker, I personally felt reluctant to speak on behalf of the natives of God’s land. So reaching out to the people of West Yorkshire to ask them what West Yorkshire means to them seemed like an appropriate path to take. ”

Looking Out, Reaching Out, is also addressing the pandemic. “The lockdown made us feel separated from the whole world,” Thanda said. “But music kept me sane and gave me purpose; I was able to connect with so many people around the world. Singing from a distance with my choir at Otley has helped me to connect with older people who may have been overlooked. ”

The West Yorkshire track is part of a Sound UK music map of the country to mark the time of the pandemic. Invited to download original songs capturing the experience of the pandemic, or to share songs that have meant something over the period, more than 650 people participated, with contributions ranging from an account of what it was is that being a teenager at 90 years old’s thanks to his exercise instructor.

Maija Handover, Director of Sound UK, said: “A Song for Us celebrates our communities during the pandemic and beyond. It celebrates the power of music to bring us together, whether as creators, performers or listeners.

Jo Nockels, Project Director, Opera North, added: “We are delighted to be working with Thanda Gumede, whose blend of Zulu, jazz and gospel influences make him such a unique composer. It was great to introduce him to Boff. Together they have created a song that is both powerfully outward looking and richly local. ”


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Grace D. Erickson