The end of any year provides an opportunity for reflecting on what, if anything, has been achieved, and what can be learned for the future. This year has absolutely flown by, and looking back, it has been both a busy year, and probably one which will be seen as a defining period in the band’s history.
But it wasn’t all positive. 2014 was the band’s 20th anniversary, and we had been planning ahead for the two years previous, deciding on a whole range of ways of celebrating the ‘big birthday’, and re-connecting with many of our ex-members, partners, stakeholders, etc. However two things made any kind of celebration almost impossible – finances and time constraints.
The finances things was particularly annoying in that we genuinely felt that a retrospective exhibition and show, celebrating the many facets of the band’s existence would serve both as a celebration for ourselves, but also as a learning opportunity for others involved in community music activity both here and abroad. The celebratory activities we had planned all had artistic merits in and of themselves, and were worthwhile projects, which would have stretched the band musically, and provided for a strong and entertaining performance, but the funding was simply not forthcoming, and given that we were only beginning to emerge from the ravages of a serious recession in Ireland, we didn’t have any cash reserves to put to it.
Amazingly, Dublin City Council’s Arts Office took the opportunity to cut our funding by 100%, which demonstrates their commitment to locally-based community music initiatives. Interestingly, it doesn’t stop them from contacting us to get involved in all sorts of other community events, but that’s for another day. Likewise, the Arts Council’s door were closed to us again last year – hardly a surprise, but disappointing nonetheless.
The other issue was time. We knew all year that we might have the opportunity to move to another, larger premises, with a proper lease, but negotiations around this took a long time, and with it, plans for the 20th anniversary party kept getting pushed back. The building move, and all the other work we had committed to, had to take precedence, but we are planning to have some kind of 21st Birthday Party in 2015, so keep your eyes open for new on that!
Another major blow to MaSamba in 2014 was the departure of one of our longest standing members, and our full time music tutor, Sarah Walker. Sarah decided to re-locate to Scotland, after more than 15 years involvement with the band, and even though she created an exit strategy that would minimise the disruption, it’s fair to say that she left a gaping hole behind her.
Luckily for us, Sharon O’Reilly, one of the founding members of the MaSamba Youth Band back in 1999, had re-joined the band some months earlier, and was able to take on the role of Music Tutor, bringing a lot of energy and good ideas to the job. Sharon has worked out really well in her now position, but no-one will ever replace Sarah 100%.
With all these challenges, it would be fair to expect that MaSamba would have a fairly quiet year, but if anything, it has been one of our busiest years to date, and 2014 might mark the end of the recession in terms of our work.
In April, a small contingent from MaSamba travelled to Toulouse to participate in the carnival there. This was an extension of our partnership with Samba Résille, and it has to be said that they were excellent hosts, making sure that we had a full schedule of activities, were extremely well fed, and even had time for a drink or two. The Carnaval itself was a great experience, and we hope to extend our partnership with Samba Résille into 2015 and beyond! There’s a wee clip of the action here!
One of the biggest positives for us this year was the hosting of the World Cup in Brasil. This created the perfect storm for us in terms of work opportunities, and June was a very busy month, especially June 12th, which was the opening day of the competition. MaSamba had 7 different events on that day alone, and even though it took a huge amount of planning, everything went well, and all our clients were happy with our input.
Also in June, MaSamba returned to Ballina to perform in the Salmon Festival Mardi Gras Parade. This event hadn’t happened for a couple of years, and we were delighted to be asked back to participate in what is definitely one of the best street events on the Irish calendar!
In September, we participated in a very interesting project with Ulysses Opera Theatre called ‘Harp – A River Cantata’, which was the official opening event for the Dublin Fringe Festival 2014. The project definitely involved us stepping out of our own comfort zone, in terms of music, and the highly structured performance, but overall, it was a very enjoyable experience, and a nice opportunity to be part of some ‘high art’ for a change;-)
Later in September, we nurtured some of our ties with the local community though our involvement in Culture Night at the new Dublin Whiskey Company’s distillery on Newmarket Square. The event was called ‘Dublin Ate, Culture Quenched’ and involved a number of craft food and drink producers who are based in the Liberties area. Prior to that, we did a warm-up event on Thomas Street itself, and got totally soaked, so the offer of a nice glass of Teeling Whiskey was most welcome, when we got to the distillery!
There were lots of teaching and community projects too, and we continued our very positive links with a number of local schools, colleges and even some work in universities! All these projects deserve a paragraph or two each, but a couple of particular interest were our continued involvement with St. James’ NS on Basin Lane – the work itself is going really well, but the partnership is also branching out into some new areas which will see the light of day in 2015. Also, Sharon has been working in George’s Hill CNS almost all year, getting some great results with some very young children there. Finally, we delivered to series of workshops (14 in all) with a group of people with Mental Health Issues for the HSE on Dublin’s Northside. This was a very ‘slow-burn’ project by comparison to a lot of the work we do, but it was great to get to the stage where some of the participants were happy to perform a couple of pieces as part of a Christmas celebration in December!
As usual, Simeon was off on his travels in 2014, getting to the NAMM Show in LA in January, the Frankfurt Musik Messe in March, to the Toulouse Carnaval and the LSS 30th Birthday celebrations in April, to Belfast to study with Sam Alexander in August, back to London for a couple of days with Mestre Jonas (and a Dead Kennedies gig), and to the Birmingham Vintage Drum Show in September – a trip to Brasil is long overdue, but maybe in 2015….
As the year drew to a close, we finally got word that our bid for a new rehearsal space in Bow Lane West had been accepted, and that lease negotiations had been concluded. This process took many months of behind the scenes work by both staff and Board members, and it was touch-and-go up to the very end. We had to assume that it was business as usual, and try to keep doing the day to day work, but without really being able to plan ahead. It was therefore a relief to finally get the orders to pack up and move, and over the four weekends in November, and many other weeknights, and early morning starts, we managed to pack the enormous amount of equipment, costumes, office supplies, etc. and move everything into the new building.
This building still needs major building work, before we can realise our vision, but we are in and rehearsing with the community band, and hopefully we will have the space in a safe enough condition to re-start rehearsals with our youth project very soon.
On the instrument front, it has been an extremely positive year. In 2013, we began negotiations with Hardcase around them creating some custom cases especially for the samba scene, and over many, many months of discussions, measurements, more discussion, testing prototypes, etc, we ended up with a range of cases for just about any sized surdo, caixa, timba and repinique on the market. Better again, as a reward for being the guinea pigs, Hardcase produced some special red cases for us with the MaSamba logo on them. Luckily for us, they arrived just before the extremely busy World Cup season, when the drums were in and out of vans 2-3 times a day. Of course, they did a fantastic job, and our drums are now safer than ever.
Our relationship with Contemporanea Instrumentos Musicais goes from strength, and we are currently working with them to buy some new surdos, repiniques and timbas for our community band set up. We really look after our equipment, but everything gets a lot of usage, so eventually it all must be replaced. This spring, we will overhaul all our rehearsal and gigging equipment, and recycle some of the older drums into our workshop stock, thanks to a great deal with Contemporanea and a grant from the Arts Council/Music Network Music Capital Scheme. Music Network have been a great supporter of MaSamba’s work for several years, and this kind of partnership means that we get exactly the equipment we need, when we need it, and at a very low cost to the band!
Also, in 2014, we developed the beginnings of relationships with 2 new companies: Sakae Drums (Japan) and Leiva Cajons (Spain). Both of these companies produce very high quality instruments, and both have provided support to MaSamba through the supply of free or highly subsidised instruments, and we are grateful for their support.
So, as 2015 begins, we see MaSamba in a new place – literally! There are also a number of very interesting projects being discussed at the moment, and we sincerely hope that the worst of the recession is behind us and that the only way is up!