Since the very creation of MaSamba, back in 1994, there has always been a strong emphasis on community involvement, and using the talents of the band to support efforts in the community.
Two main factors contribute to our community ethos:
(i) Masamba was initially developed as a staff development project of the City Arts Centre, which itself was an arts centre, dedicated to community arts. This ethos was shared by many of the original members of the group,
(ii) Masamba’s Director, Simeon Smith, came to the group as a graduate of the Community Development Programme in NUI Galway. In addition to this, he was a staff member of the national representative body for community arts in Ireland, Creative Activity For Everyone (CAFE), when he joined Masamba. Both of these factors ensured that there has always been a community arts and community development ethos within the group, and this is evidenced in a lot of the work we do to this day.
We have always attempted to make links in every community we have operated in, and usually to do this, we have had to take considerable time to establish our credibility within these communities – after all, what would a bunch of drummers know about community development?
One of the earliest examples of our drive to get involved in working in our immediate community was the creation of our youth project in 1999. Masamba’s adult band used to occasionally rehearse on the banks of the river Liffey when the weather was fine. One evening, a group of very young children from the after-school project next door came out with basins and buckets and started to play their own form of percussion. Our immediate response was – ‘why don’t we do something with these kids on an ongoing basis’. A few weeks later, after a few outreach visits to local schools and youth clubs, we had our first session of what has been one of the most enduring projects we have been involved in – The Masamba Youth Project.
It is evidence of the quality of this project that several members of the adult band, actually started in the youth project, and Sharon O’Reilly, Masamba’s full-time music tutor is herself one of the original members of the youth group.
When we were based in the City Quay area, we got involved in the South Docks Festival, we taught in City Quay National School, and we also got involved in a number of initiatives of our ‘landlords’ at the time, the City Arts Centre.
On re-locating to the Liberties in 2003, we had to begin the process again, of establishing credibility and explaining what we did and how it might be a support to local developmental activity. We delivered a series of workshops for the South West Inner City Network, which eventually became a local youth samba band (our own youth group still rehearsed in the City Quay area, and in fact both bands collaborated on a number of projects). We were also invited to work in a local school, Scoil Treasa Naofa, which led to the creation of a school samba band there, as well as workshops with every child in the school once a week. We were also heavily involved in setting up a youth samba band in the Ballymun area (Munch Samba), in conjunction with the local youth service there, which ran for many years.
As time passed in the Liberties, we created links with other local schools, and local youth and community activists, to ensure that we could continue to develpop meaningful projects which support local activities and are not in competition with them.
Currently, we are working in St. James’ National School, Scoil Iosagain, with the South Inner City Community Development Association (SICCDA), on the development of the Liberties Festival, and with the local community office of Dublin City Council on a number of civic events.
Already this year, our youth project has performed for the President of Ireland Michael D. Higgins (twice), and has participated in a number of local events large and small.
Perhaps the biggest challenge we face is that we have recently moved into a much larger building on the borders between the Liberties and Kilmainham. We hope that this gives us the opportunity to continue to develop projects in the Liberties, but also to start working in a new area, with new people and projects.
While the initial focus will be to develop the premises to be a suitable and safe home for our current work, longer term the plan is to be able to act as a resource to the community, through the provision of affordable, accessible facilities for a whole range of community and creative projects.
We are always looking for new opportunities to get involved in local projects, and if you think Masamba can help in your area, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us.
Masamba’s work in the community is supported by the Department of Social Protection through the Community Services Programme, which is part of the National Development Plan. Our Youth Project is supported by the City of Dublin Youth Service Board and our own voluntary efforts.