Working in genres from jazz and R&B to ambient, and rooted in traditional music from across Africa and Asia, six lead artists, Rob Green, Ni Maxine, Babak Mirsalari, Madeline Shann, Kaviraj Singh, and Marco Woolf, have been announced for the return of Opera North’s Resonance residencies, running from February to April.

Each will spend a week at our central Leeds base, developing new ideas in workshops and work-in-progress performances. Resonance is a PRS Foundation Talent Development Partner supported by PPL, with additional support from The Austin and Hope Pilkington Trust.

Resonance offers time, space and resources to professional music-makers of colour, working in any genre and based in the north of England, to take their work in new directions, to experiment with collaborators and new ideas, and to try out the results in front of audiences.

Marking its sixth year in 2023, the scheme already boasts an impressive legacy: several alumni have gone on to major commissions for Opera North’s mainstage, and sitarist Jasdeep Singh Degun is now the Company’s Artist in Residence, with credits as composer, co-music director and soloist on last year’s acclaimed cross-cultural opera Orpheus.

January’s opening celebrations for Leeds 2023 Year of Culture featured electrifying performances from Testament and Khadijah Ibrahiim, and As You Are, the Leeds soundwalk by Abel Selaocoe, opens as part of the year-long festival in March.

This year’s lead artists are set to combine their music with disciplines including dance, film and storytelling:

Rob Green

Rob is a singer-songwriter from Nottingham who has been writing, performing and touring his music for over 10 years, often armed only with his loop pedal, acoustic guitar and soulful voice. His music combines soul and R&B with pop influences, and his many live appearances include Glastonbury’s acoustic stage, the BBC Proms and as the opening act for Earth, Wind and Fire on their UK and European tours. Drawing inspiration from growing up mixed-race and gay, Rob’s work aims to unite audiences and tell a hopeful story of identity. In his residency Rob will blend spoken word and music to flow between tracks, and work with Leeds-based filmmakers and videographers to create a single-take visual document of his performance of acoustic songs exploring identity, masculinity and mental wellbeing.

Ni Maxine

Neo-jazz singer Ni Maxine will use Resonance to continue work on The Life Movement, her “space for expression and storytelling through music”. Sparked during a residency at Sage Gateshead and developed on Manchester Jazz Festival’s Hothouse programme, this ambitious work finds Ni “explaining the context of my ancestors, the generations who came before me and my current predicament”. She will draw on her West African heritage, the legacy of Afrobeat legend Fela Kuti, and the power of storytelling in song, which she first discovered through artists such as Ella Fitzgerald and Nina Simone.

“I am looking forward to using this time to develop a show that tells my Black British story, offers consolation and inspiration to those who relate and opens the eyes of those who find the narrative challenging or unfamiliar, to spark conversations for change”, says Ni. I am grateful to Opera North for creating the space and opportunity for me to embark on this deeply personal journey with collaborators who share in my experience.”

Babak Mirsalari

Babak is an Iranian composer, collaborator and performer, working in genres as varied as contemporary and nu-jazz, progressive electronica, world fusion, post-rock and spacey ambient. Most recently he scored BBC Three’s Grenfell: Five Years, Five Stories documentary, and now he is looking to develop his practice as a composer and solo performer. He plans to bring his experience as an Iranian immigrant to bear upon his Resonance residency, using south-western Iranian rhythms to reflect on his childhood; his transition from Iran to northern England’s music scene; his years spent in the “maze” of Home Office bureaucracy in the UK; and finally the beautiful Yorkshire landscapes surrounding his new home in Hebden Bridge.

“I am looking forward to giving life to a project that I envisioned from the early days of being granted my leave to remain”, says Babak. “It will be my aural exorcism and it is about setting your inner dancing demons free. Through this autobiographical piece, I am going to create sonic landscapes that reflect on different chapters of my life as an Iranian musician living in the UK, travelling through time and geography. Working with other talented musicians and storytellers, the project will traverse various genres and mediums”. His palette will include vintage synthesisers, drums and percussion, santoor, sound and footage from family 8mm and VHS archives.

Madeline Shann

Madeline Shann works across music, dance, theatre, screen and live art, with a long cv of collaborations in each. She currently performs alternative pop as Night-Visions, and recently made an experimental screendance short film called The Spring, with score and sound design by composer Xavier Velastin.

“For the Resonance residency I will be returning to my collaboration with Xavier in a new project called Flood the Field”, says Madeline. “It’ll be an opportunity for me to branch out from my usual songwriting practice, and delve deep into the world of voice and sound, experimenting with layers, textures, structure and duration. I am interested in meditative and hypnotic states achieved by listening and dancing, and am drawing on traditional folk songs, danceable rhythms, and disorientating loops to create sound for these experiences. This is a completely new area for me and I am so excited to explore in the studio.”

Kaviraj Singh

Past Resonance artists have gone on to create works for Opera North’s mainstage, but santoor (hammered dulcimer) player and singer Kaviraj is the first to make the journey in the opposite direction. With virtuosity and charisma, he shone among a stellar ensemble as the ferryman Charon/Caronte in Opera North and SAA-uk’s acclaimed Orpheus in 2022. The only professional practitioner in the UK to combine santoor and vocals, he is also a trained sound engineer, and for Resonance he plans to bring all these skills together in developing a narrative about migration and nature.

“I’m very much looking forward to being able to explore and delve deeper into the sound of the santoor to find new pathways and routes in which to present my music alongside the textures of the Indian voice”, says Kaviraj. “I intend to use Indian music as a springboard to create new and innovative musical material which will help me develop as a musician and an artist, to transcend boundaries and create a new listening experience”.

Marco Woolf

Malawi-born, Manchester-based singer-songwriter, composer, and storyteller Marco grew up listening to his elders’ folk tales, and as a performer he weaves improvised stories and poetry into his sets. Inspired by the Greek Furies and Aeschylus’ Oresteia, his new project explores the theme of healing, with improvised dance responding to his narratives. During his residency, Marco and collaborators will spend one day each concentrating on storytelling, music and dance, before two days with a dramaturg to help develop the narrative and creative language.

He comments: “The Resonance residency arrives at such a pivotal point for me: before I could start thinking about writing new music or the next steps in my career I knew I needed the time and space to explore and play with the ideas that have been bouncing around in my head. Me and my band have never had an opportunity like this, so I am immensely grateful and stupendously excited to get working under the guidance of Opera North!”

From February to April, each of the artists will receive a week of free rehearsal space in central Leeds, a grant of up to £3,800 to cover fees for those involved and other costs, and support and advice from technicians, producers and other specialists. There are also options for a work in progress performance and a short film to document each project.

The Resonance scheme has been enabled by Opera North’s membership of the PRS Foundation’s network of Talent Development Partners. The UK’s leading funder of new music and talent development, PRS Foundation supports organisations working at the frontline of talent development with a broad range of individual music creators. This reflects PRS Foundation’s commitment to supporting composers and songwriters of all backgrounds and genres, through direct investment or by helping organisations which nurture artists and promote their music. Generous additional support for this year’s programme comes from The Austin and Hope Pilkington Trust, whose priorities include addressing the discrimination faced by the Global Majority.

Opera North is a PRS Foundation Talent Development Partner supported by PPL.


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