This weekend sees the opening event of Croydon’s year as London Borough of Culture with the Oratorio of Hope at the Fairfield Halls. An original eight-movement composition commissioned by London Mozart Players it’s an epic collaboration of artistic talent spanning different genres, including Croydon’s poet laureate Shaniqua Benjamin, Afrobeats artist Silvastone, Croydon-born composer Tarik O’Regan, Asian arts organisation Subrang Arts and collaborative composer Fiona Brice alongside hundreds of Croydon’s young people.
The Oratorio is inspired by For Us and We: an original poem by Shaniqua Benjamin, which celebrates the diverse communities of Croydon and shares stories of hope for the future.
We catch up with Shaniqua and Fiona to find out more about this landmark event.
Croydonist: Should our readers be expecting an evening of classical music?
Shaniqua: Definitely not – you should expect classical music mixed in with a whole lot more! Get ready for an exciting collaboration between composers, dancers, singers, the orchestra – and my poetry too.
Fiona: Oratorio of Hope was commissioned by London Mozart Players – the Resident Orchestra at Fairfield Halls – so while there will certainly be elements of classical music in this event, the Oratorio is so much more than this. The Oratorio is split into 8 sections, each featuring a different group or artist from Croydon who have written music or created a performance piece in collaboration with four different composers. You should expect vibrant dancing, moving lyrics written by members of Crisis Croydon, a mass children’s chorus singing about hope for the future, films about the creation of the Oratorio and life in Croydon and so much more. This isn’t an evening of classical music; it’s a celebration of Croydon through dance, music, spoken word and film.
Croydonist: Shaniqua, can you give our readers a flavour of your poem that forms the backbone to Oratorio of Hope?
Step into my kind of beautiful
that will only deepen
with herbs planted
from North to South
and all centralised between
Croydonist: How is the poem used and performed throughout?
Shaniqua: For Us and We begins the Oratorio of Hope with my performance of the poem in a short film that shines a light on the cultural beauty of Croydon, which I had a lot of fun filming (shout out BearJam Productions). It is then woven throughout most of the performance sections – some take just a few lines, some are inspired by the themes and one particular piece actually uses a slightly adapted verse that you’ll hear spoken by me. So I won’t actually appear physically onstage on this occasion, but my presence will be felt throughout.
Croydonist: Fiona, what was the process of collaborating with other artists to create music for the event?
Fiona: We were given Tarik O’Regan‘s melody and Shaniqua’s poem as inspiration so the first job for me as arranger was to communicate the contents of the sheet music I was given. I recorded videos of me playing Tarik’s theme on the piano in order to share it with my two collaborative groups – afrobeat artist Silvastone and Indian classical musicians and dancers from Subrang Arts – none of whom come from a western score-reading background.
Movement 2 (with Subrang Arts)
After some private research into the Hindustani music tradition I analysed Tarik’s melody and found that it corresponded with the Indian Raag Kafi (a romantic ‘scale’ usually performed at night). I wrote a basic melody and after discussion with Debi (sitar), transposed it to a suitable key for her to play in. I changed the meter of the melody to a 6/4 feel and chose a 6-beat Taal (cycle of beats) which Saleel (tabla) was then free to develop. I drafted an outline piece of 7 minute’s duration and created an MP3 demo to share with musicians and dancers, then we all got together for an in-person workshop to play through the draft idea & to develop it further. Indian classical music usually develops freely and is largely improvised, but due to our time restriction we had to agree on certain parameters. For lyrics we chose the phrases “Step into my kind of beautiful / Rise up to celebrate” from Shaniqua’s poem, which Debi sings. I then wrote the orchestral accompaniment, scoring the piece for string orchestra, and created a final demo from our workshop recording for Subrang dancers to rehearse to.
Movement 6 (with Silvastone)
This collaboration features a song about perseverance and overcoming hardship, inspired by the concept of hope which is the central theme of the Oratorio. In writing the song, Silvastone tapped into his personal experience of coming from Sierra Leone to New Addington in Croydon, making a life as an independent musician and navigating challenges along the way. “Where there’s a will, there’s a way,” was a recurring piece of advice given to Silvastone by his dad when he was growing up in Sierra Leone, and is the main refrain of the song. We worked together in person to build a rough demo using melodic aspects of Tarik’s theme (rising and falling fourths) and taking inspiration for the lyrics from the sense of community, festival and energy in Shaniqua’s poem. We continued to exchange ideas remotely, then Silvastone produced the final backing track while I wrote the orchestration (70 pages of A4 parts for the classical musicians and a 31 page score for the conductor).
Croydonist: For readers still wondering whether to get tickets for Oratorio of Hope, in a nutshell how would you describe the event?
Shaniqua: Oratorio of Hope is going to be a feast of culture in Croydon, bringing together so much of what makes Croydon special.
Fiona: Oratorio of Hope is a huge community event involving hundreds of collaborators from all walks of life, each coming together to tell their story as a Croydonite. It’s a fusion of Croydon’s different talents and cultures – South Asian dance and music, Afrobeats performances, collaborations with hundreds of school children from across the borough and a new poem from Croydon’s Poet Laureate. Croydon being chosen London’s Borough of Culture this year is a chance to celebrate what Croydon has to offer and look forward to what it can achieve next. Even when times are tough, the community can come together to produce something spectacular. Oratorio of Hope is the opening event for this year and by coming to watch, you’re being a part of Croydon’s story.
Thanks to Shaniqua and Fiona for chatting with us. The Oratorio of Hope takes place at 7pm this Saturday and Sunday, 1 and 2 April. Find out more and book tickets here. Keep an eye on the This Is Croydon website for other upcoming London Borough of Culture events.
Images courtesy of This Is Croydon and the London Mozart Players.
Posted by Julia