Raw Roads is a touring programme run by Brixton-based music charity Raw Material, working with young people to develop creative talent around the country. Barney Evison was at their 2015 showcase, the culmination of a year’s workshops and coaching to inspire budding musicians, actors, writers and filmmakers.
Tyrese, a 15-year-old rapper from Nottingham, wowed audiences with a flawless delivery of his song ‘They Cannot Put Me Down’. Kicked out of school and facing challenges, this song was about his determination to make it in life. Another young Nottingham artist, Sian, also just 15, dedicated her song ‘A Kiss From A Fist (Walk Away)’ to people experiencing domestic abuse.
“We asked them; if you had a button to shut people up, what is the one thing you’d want to say to them?” said Shir Freibach, creative director and manager of the project. “It’s all designed to inspire young people and give them the invitation – if you’re actively creative and you pursue it, you can go places.”
Raw Roads 2015 visited Folkestone, Peterborough, Portsmouth, Nottingham and finished in London. In each city, the week-long workshops began with a surprise piece of street theatre called ‘Invisible’, directed by Shir and written by local rapper Potent Whisper. “We gathered the kids to take them to the venue then stopped on the way to see a busker – who was actually an actor,” Shir tells me.
The busking show was then broken up by another actor playing a policeman and things start to heat up. The team wanted to highlight invisible issues in society, such as immigration and homelessness, and show that art can be exciting and subversive. Apparently things got pretty hairy in Nottingham: “we were almost arrested for impersonating a policeman,” says Shir.
The atmosphere in the Prince of Wales on Thursday night was upbeat, positive and welcoming – all the performers got cheers and claps from the audience. It’s the first time a lot of the performers have met but they’re delighted to support their peers and encourage other young artists.
The evening is also a rare networking opportunity for new creatives, with numbers and cards flying and the revolving doors of potentially intimidating and elitist industries jammed open for a short window.
Tyrese started writing lyrics at the age of 6, and for him this is a great experience of performing to a crowd. He got involved with Raw Roads through his school, and now hopes to pursue music as a full-time career.
Another young rapper, Martin, 15, also found his confidence: ““It was perfect, I feel good now, after performing to an audience.”
“When we say perform, we mean have your say,” says Shir, “not just fame and fortune. What they have to say matters – it would be a social crime not to do these sorts of projects.”
The night was rounded off by performances from charismatic rapper Tony Wilson followed by achingly cool Tank and the Bangas – all the way from New Orleans. Just a little more inspiration for the budding artists in the audience.