Young Leeds musicians showcase original work to crowds on Briggate in Black Health Initiative project aimed at tackling mental health issues during pandemic

It was the culmination of months of hard work forged during the tough months of the pandemic.

Friday, 2nd July 2021, 4:45 am
Henry Hutz, aka Mr O'Hennasy and Alicia Stanley-Lawrence performed at the Black Music Festival event on Briggate.
Henry Hutz, aka Mr O'Hennasy and Alicia Stanley-Lawrence performed at the Black Music Festival event on Briggate.

Up-and-coming young musicians finally got to showcase their talent after creating original work during a virtual programme run by Black Health Initiative's programme #Unsigned and for those under 18 #32Bars through their arts and culture arm Black Musical Festival.

Scores of youngsters took part in projects which were set up to help them address mental health problems caused by the pandemic and the trauma caused by death and violence among young black people.

On Saturday and Sunday shoppers on Briggate enjoyed hours of new beats and soulful tunes at the events.

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Charika Murray singing in the Covid-safe glass box on Briggate.

The young entertainers performed for the crowds from a specially-designed Covid-safe glass box

Heather Nelson, chief executive of Black Health Initiative, said: "During the pandemic we have been running a programme for young artists.

"A lot of people under 18 were being left out and we were receiving a lot of self-referrals from young people suffering from anxiety.

"There was also a lot of stress due to the visualising of murder and violence against black people so we decided to set up a programme to allow people to express themselves through lyrical writing.

Singer Jermaine Peterson performing at the Black Music Festival.

"Some of the work that has been done has been fantastic so we decided to showcase them under the umbrella of Black Music Festival."

Heather said that many of the young people involved in the project have also been involved with Leeds Lives Not Knives campaign.

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The programme also targeted those who may be coerced into criminal activities such as county lines, become victims of drug dealing activity.

Black Health Initiative chief executive Heather Nelson attended the event to support young performers.

The box was made available to the Black Music Festival by LeedsBID, the not-for-profit organisation set up to improve Leeds city centre for all.

Heather added: "We appreciate that young people want to come out and enjoy themselves and they have been able to do it in a Covid-safe safe environment.

"The crowds have been wicked all weekend.

"One woman said to me that she had come out to shop for the day but didn't get any done because she has been enjoying the music too much!"

Charika Murray

Among those entertaining the crowds on Briggate on Sunday was 15-year-old Charika Murray.

Charika, from Alwoodley, has been involved with the project for around six months, developing her writing and performance skills.

The Allerton High pupil said: "It has given me so much confidence and helped me with my performance skills.

Charika performed her song Black Lives Matters for the crowds.

She said: "I think it went really well and people seemed to enjoy it.

"I'm hoping to have a career in music and events like this are great for giving me the confidence to keep going.

Alicia Stanley-Lawrence

"I have been given so much support and my family and friends are very proud of me."

Manchester-based singer-songwriter Jermaine Peterson also performed.

He said: "It has been a great atmosphere on both days and it's amazing to be able to perform after so long.

"I loved the venue. The box was pretty cool and the crowd really got into it.

"It was great to come and support a group that supported me when I was relatively unknown."

On Sunday Jermaine sang his song Breakdown which he penned while working closely with groups in Leeds.

He added: "The song is about a really tough stage that I went through in my life.

"When I sing it now it really takes me back to how I felt at that time.

Alicia Stanley-Lawrence, from Roundhay, was another performer whose work has been maturing with the help of groups linked to Black Health Initiative's Black Musical Festival team.

The 17-year-old singer said she had been helped by attending sessions at First Base, on Roundhay Road.

Alicia said: "I didn't know much about music before I got involved but I have learned so much and it has really helped me express myself.

"Being around other creatives has helped with my confidence.

"I don't think there are enough places like BHI around to help young people grow and get encouragement."