Leon Patel - percussionist and co-founder of Global Grooves
ResearcherRachel Beckles Willson
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Leon Patel was born in Mossley and considers himself Mancunian although his father is from Gujarat in India, and his mother is half English and half Polish. He is a percussionist (but also plays guitar, bass, piano, and drum kit), and lead Global Grooves, an arts organization in Mossley fostering participation in the diverse music and dance styles from around the world.
The importance of community music
As a child Leon benefitted from the enterprising music-making of one of his school teachers, despite the lack of formal music provision. It has shaped a generation of musicians in the region.
"So one of the teachers kind of went around car boot sales, buying guitars and instruments, and ran sessions at the primary school. That got a lot of us hooked on music. And interestingly, the group of people that used to play together then are now all professional musicians, which is, I assume, thanks to his kind of input. And they're touring around the world with bands and doing different things. Quite an amazing group of people came out of that [laughs]. And, and then in secondary school, there was a little bit more, formal kind of tuition, I took GCSE music, that kind of thing. Which was really good, but it wasn't the thing that kind of influenced me most, which was joining a local percussion group in the local community centre. And through that path is kind of where I found my musical, kind of journey, really."
"So, having sort of played guitar in primary school, and I went to do that in secondary school, and we started like, you know, rock band, sell rehearsals and things at school, and then one of the members of that ban said “you get to come along to this, this drumming thing. It's at the local community centre”. And I thought, “why not?” So I went up there, grabbed the shaky thing [laughs], and played that, and for some reason just kept going back. And, and that was made by a community musician called Iain Mellor. And he started the group as a kind of family learning project, and he was a drum kit player, but he got a book on Latin percussion and took his drum kit apart and shared that around the community and brought some rhythms together. Probably by the time we joined that group, we were 13 or 14 years old. And by the time we were 18 or 19, the [original] group of young people became the people that lead that group."
Mossley as an area for artists
Leon reflected on the particular character of Mossley, which he says it especially rich in music and art. He attributes this to the availability of low-cost housing, making accessible to artists, and generating a community, who infected their children with music.
"Instead of, I don't know, playing football every night, we played music every night. Now, the demographics changed slightly, and housing - because it's so close to Manchester City Centre - has gone, gone up in value. And there's a lot of community commuters that live here. But there's still a kind of heart and core of artists. And an example of that is just around the corner – there's a converted cotton mill with like 250 artists’ studios in it, and they're just, they just make work, that's what they do from those studios, and it's quite a community there. "
"We're only 20 minutes away from Manchester. So there are musicians and artists and, and others, cultural leaders that commute from this area into the center, and work at some of the major arts centres and is this, like the chief executive of HOME is from here (a huge arts centre in Manchester)."
"Mossley hasn't become kind of gentrified yet, and I suspect it won't – and there's a kind of a movement that's just emerging, which is around an idea called ‘Art Town’, which is about kind of embedding arts and culture in every element of the town's life, from kind of social prescribing, from the GP practice, to encouraging schools to do one more cultural workshop, to putting arts and music and culture into derelict buildings and areas of the street. So there's this kind of movement and idea that we want to make that the heart of the kind of civic society here, in order not to lose it. So we're on a journey to kind of make that happen- and we will make that happen in the next few years."
"I think we happen to be lucky that we, we live in a small it's almost the size of a village- 10,000 people. So the Art Town project is ,is kind of a thing that is very micro and super local. So we don't have to kind of move these big ships to make it happen- it's quite organic and perhaps a bit easier than if we were attempting it in the middle of Manchester."
The importance of local history
Leon draws on the history of the area, both in terms of its cultural traditions and its deep association with – reliance on – international connection and immigration, in all its complexity. He strives to bring out this complexity in his creative work.
"Tameside, and kind of Greater Manchester obviously, was built on the industrial revolution. And there is a very strong tradition of performance and of cultural displays here that that haven't really gone away, so there's still kind of some tradition of carnivals, there’s Morris, there's, there's lots of things that happen. Mossley as a town-and all of the local towns actually- but Mossley was the first place for the brass band competitions for the Whit walks. So it's kind of like a hub for all of that stuff every year, hundreds of brass bands come to the, to the area to perform. And I think that the idea of kind of homemade, homegrown arts and culture is still very much part of life here, which isn't always the case for larger towns, towns and cities. So people have a kind of, already have an understanding and appreciation, and see the value in participating together as a community and being creative."
"We're just doing a piece of work at the moment called ‘Cotton Culture’, which is exploring the kind of global links of the mill, and mill workers’ lives in a local area. Our studio is in a converted cotton mill. And it came from looking at what the history of that was. And it's quite interesting – in Tameside, just around the corner from Mossley (Tameside is a borough that we are in) – there used to be one of the major printers that created textile wax prints for West Africa. So all the designer African patterns and clothes that are there today kind of, came and were influenced by Tameside. So there's an interesting kind of export of, of culture and links there. And then, we've been speaking to quite a few members of the community where there's a lot of South Asian people that visited Tameside and came to work here in the mills, so there's that kind of exchange there. It's quite a multicultural area, but I think mainly built upon that Industrial Revolution, and the need to kind of fill those jobs and positions here. But it's still a place where there is not much mixing between those communities. So there's a an area where, where Bangladeshi people live, one where Indian people live, one where African people live…. So there's not much kind of communication between those groups."
Global research for local music Leon works closely with the team at Global Grooves, and described some of the projects that they have researched, and then led in the local areas. The team was particular interested in the similarities in rhythmical phrasing around the world, and they followed those rhythms to different countries. They studied the musical forms, but also engaged deeply with the people that were making that music. They wanted to understand the context in which music was being played.
"We discovered that there's a kind of common trait that's stemming back to Africa. So it almost follows that kind of slave trade pattern, from its very root farm in West Africa, to what's now being played at carnivals in Trinidad and Tobago, Brazil, and Cuba, wherever else. When we were studying in Brazil, the teacher was trying to explain that the music that we're playing here is older than the music that's being played in Africa. And what was interesting about that, what he was trying to explain was that with the slave trade, the only thing that they had to hold on to was their memories, their cultures, food, religions, traditions. And that was handled very, very tightly by those people because it's all they had left of their homelands. And because of that kind of idea of preserving and protecting those cultures, rhythms, and heritage, there's been very little movement in how those rhythms have developed. Whereas the root of the other rhythms in West Africa, for example, had moved on, so far, that it's difficult now to see the link between them. And I just thought that was really fascinating, that African music had been protected so strongly in in the new world, and it just gone turned into pop music somewhere else, you know [laughs]."
"So what we do now, is we kind of create pieces of work that celebrate lots of different traditions and lots of different cultures, and present that in a way that has a kind of Manchester twist to it. And, and 99% of the time, the music that we make is participatory, so members of the community or the musicians, from wherever they're from, whatever age they are, can access that and feel some sort of connection to it. And we kind of present back traditional music that has links to lots of different cultures, but is linked together by migration, and presented in a way that a Western audience can understand, so that everybody can enjoy what's being created, I think. Something like that [laughs]."
Celebrating music for the street
Leon introduced the video he shared (see above), which is a project called 'Flock'. It brought together two or three hundred members of the community, both professional artists and musicians and community groups and individual participants. The result was a new piece of Carnival work that was part of the Festival of the Sky in Cleethorpes. It was the first Festival of the Sky there.
"We worked with lots and lots of different groups, and tried to capture elements of their interests and cultures and traditions within the piece of work that we presented. And then that was either rehearsed within separate community groups in Cleethorpes, or in Tameside, and also rehearsed with professional and amateur musicians and performers."
"And then we just took that onto the streets for one day as a kind of celebration of what we, we did. It was a lovely project, because we engaged in multiple schools and a lot of, kind of different types of groups, community groups. I think we did well on kind of arranging pieces of music and choreography, and making costumes that were relevant to those groups. So everybody felt ownership and felt like they'd contributed to the music. It's almost co-created, which it meant a lot to the people that were involved in it. And particularly in Cleethorpes... they used to have a carnival every year with all of the community involved, and then for one reason or other the committee disbanded, and for many years, it hadn't happened. Everybody, when they were doing the research for the Festival of the Sky, looked back really fondly at Carnival and how we brought the community together and what it meant to them. "
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Leon Patel - percussionist and co-founder of Global Grooves
ResearcherRachel Beckles Willson
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