The joy of music

In November I reached a long-awaited milestone as an artist and composer. My first pieces for orchestra were premiered by the City of London Sinfonia at London’s Kings Place. They had been transcribed and arranged with Iain Farrington, who created around half of the stunning arrangements for the King’s coronation. According to Donne UK Foundation statistics, in over 100 orchestras surveyed throughout 2021/2022 the total number of Asian female composers performed by orchestras is only 0.66 per cent, so it felt remarkable to collaborate with such esteemed players. I wore Pam Hogg couture and the City of London Sinfonia were incredibly warm towards me. I couldn’t have walked through this project feeling more supported. It left me with a hunger to write more orchestral pieces.

Art and activism
What I wear to perform is important. When I appeared alongside Owen Jones, Jonbers Blonde and Caryn Franklin in Schön magazine to celebrate 40 years of Katharine Hamnett, I remembered how, growing up in the early ’90s, Hamnett was one of those designers whose work seeped into my subconscious with her stark and instantly recognisable clothes. She was probably one of the first creatives I experienced who combined art and activism with a directness and simplicity that even a child could recognise.

In that spirit, I was blown away by a new young collective I performed with at NN Contemporary, called Diasporas Now. It was co-founded by artists Rieko Whitfield, Paola Estrella and Lulu Wang, who met at the Royal College of Art. Describing themselves as a “platform for expanded performance by the global majority,” their tour will finish at the ICA in February 2024. There’s no one quite like them exploring performance, the body and the global majority identity. I’m so excited to watch their progress.

The aromas of home
Unfortunately I missed out on Diwali celebrations because I’ve had my head down composing and producing music for a new series on Channel 4 that’s still under wraps. But one of the things I’m doing to keep sane in between intense writing, producing and recording sessions is to work my way through Meera Sodha’s Made in India recipe book. Her accessible vegan recipes kept me sane during the pandemic. They have a flavoursome authenticity and deliciousness that make your whole body glow. I particularly love making her coriander chutney in my kitchen in between vocal comping and programming beats. The aromas fill my entire home and studio.

Composing music with AI
I am part of a team helping to develop a creative AI composer tool with the University of Sheffield. Other musicians taking the plunge into AI include Holly Herndon, who ideas in a recent New Yorker feature resonated with my own approach. Foremost, that since AI is trained on data sets and solely reliant on the input of humans it can’t think independently or make decisions outside the data it’s trained on – but if we use it in open-minded and explorative ways it can open up entirely new types of artistry. There’s no going back so we should move forwards with AI’s potential, bearing in mind the need to be cautious and monitor its development; we need to protect the rights of artists who fear their work is being stolen to develop AI programs.

This month I launched my EP Maya, the Birth of a Superhero, part of my original soundtrack to the eponymous VR immersive film directed by Poulomi Basu and CJ Clarke. The narrative follows the transformation of an East London schoolgirl into a superhero, whose powers derive from the process of menstruation. The film stars the voices of Game of Thrones’ Indira Varma and Bridgerton’s Charithra Chandran. The project received a special audience mention at TriBeCa 2023 and a four-star review in the Guardian when exhibited at the V&A Digital Design Weekend.

As a teenager my start in live performance came from the queer basements of East London, so I felt I was returning home launching this at The Glory in Haggerston, a bastion of queer nightlife. The Glory is one of the few venues that truly supports its creatives at whatever stage they are in their career. Joining me on violin was Rebekah Reid, who performs with Chineke Orchestra, and non-binary drag superstar Barbs opened with a set of Philip Glass’s Piano Etudes, Chopin and Yann Tiersen.

The F-List for Music
On the morning of the EP release, I was interviewed by Anita Rani on BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour, one of my favourite radio shows. I was guesting alongside Sharon Osbourne and Shani Dhanda. I appeared with Ivor Novello-winning composer and artist, Hannah Peel, to talk about our involvement with the F-List for Music, a directory advocating for more female and gender diverse musicians and minority composers within the UK film and TV sector. Afterwards I was blown away by Sharon Osbourne’s memoir, since she was one of the only female managers in rock‘n’roll’s 1970s heyday. It was lovely meeting her. The morning finished off with sharing a lift with Suggs, another master songwriter responsible for so many monster hits. A fitting end to my firecracker month of cultural adventures.

BISHI is a vocalist, composer, producer and founder of WITCiH

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Columns, December 23 / January 24, Journal

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