In Conversation with Kinetika Bloco
In conversation with Tamzyn French, Manager at Kinetika Bloco
As we approach October, lots of teachers will be celebrating Black History Month. What will this look like in your school? How might this differ depending on the children you teach? Is there opportunity for us to look beyond October to immerse our children and young people in Black musical cultures, inspirations, composers and musicians? Are we truly representing the children we teach?
This month, I have been in conversation with Tamzyn French, Manager at Kinetika Bloco, a performance group who serve the young people of South London, who embody the ethos of community, representation, creativity and engagement to produce a unique sound.
Who are Kinetika Bloco?
Kinetika Bloco is a youth music charity based in Lambeth with an exuberant mix of young brass and woodwind players, drummers, steel pan and dynamic dancers all in costume creating a “unique new British Carnival sound with a decidedly London edge” (BBC Radio2). We draw our influences from the Caribbean, Brazil, Africa and New Orleans and each year gather together hundreds of young people from ages 8-25 years old in After School clubs, Summer Schools, Performances and leadership activities. Our achievements include: performances at Notting Hill Carnival, Bestival and London Jazz Festival; performing for Nelson Mandela who called us “enchanting”; representing the UK at the Beijing Olympic Festival; leading Team GB in the 2012 Victory Parade; collaborating with major artists like AfroReggae, Hot 8 Brass Band and Arlo Parks at high profile venues including Southbank, Roundhouse and the Royal Albert Hall; starring on BBC 1Xtra and at the BRITS and performing our own second-line in New Orleans.
What is Kinetika Bloco’s ethos?
Our mission is to engage young people from South London in long term creative activity, advancing their education, skills, and capacity. Through music, dance, design and leadership activities, we enable young people to express themselves creatively, develop social skills and take a lead in the band and in their own lives. We aim to provide pathways for leadership and career development and enable young people to participate in society as mature and responsible individuals.
We want all young people in South London to be able to access quality music-making and, in doing so, be empowered to lead a fulfilling, creative life. We want to see young people having fun and enjoying life by giving them an outlet from the everyday stress of school, home and growing up. Through our work, we want young people to be seen in a positive, new light by their families, communities and wider society–and we want them to have ways to contribute and ‘give back’ themselves. Finally, we want our young people to enter a creative sector which is reflective of their diverse backgrounds, talents, interests and ambitions.
Our values that we work from are Respect, Family, Risk, Creativity and Leadership. If you want to find out more about our ethos check out https://youtu.be/T8bWq7WXJTE
How do Kinetika Bloco exist within the Lambeth community?
We are committed to developing long term relationships with young people and for that reason we focus our work mostly on South London so that we don’t spread ourselves too thinly. We are based at the Southbank Centre in Lambeth and sit on the Lambeth Music Hub Strategy Board as well as working with Southwark, Croydon, and Bromley Music Hubs. We mostly provide out of school provision for young people to attend, so that they can come together with others, be inspired by those of different ages and abilities and create something bigger than what they can do in school. However, we do also work closely with schools in order to access these young people and invite them out. We provide regular drum and steel pan provision in several primary and secondary schools in Lambeth and invite those students to join us at After School Club, summer school etc. We recognise we need to be where young people are in order to draw them out to further activity.
What do you feel your biggest asset is as a music education provider?
Kinetika Bloco is an eco-system! Our biggest asset is our young people and our commitment to go on the journey together. We ideally want a young person to join us at 8 years old in Junior Summer School, progress to Senior Summer School, join our Leadership Programme, start leading on an After School club, inspire the next generation coming through, follow a career in music and continue to be connected to Bloco by teaching or playing with us. We have seen this happen with Kinetika Bloco Alumni who have gone through the ‘system’ like Sheila Maurice-Grey, Femi Koleoso, Mark Kavuma, Theon Cross. They are all now giving back and inspiring the next generation. It gives our young people role models who look and sound like them, who come from the same places as them, who have been on the same journey and who are tangible and can give them advice and support. It keeps our organisation relevant and diverse as the young people who are a part of it are the ones driving it forward. It provides real opportunity for young people to be and stay creative throughout their education as well as building a supportive community around them who will help them to stay on the right path.
Do you work in Early Years settings? What does this provision look like?
We just started working in Early Years in 2021 which has been an exciting development! We have been working with Abacus Nurseries, visiting each of their 4 nurseries every 2 weeks working with 1–4-year-olds. Abacus were keen to introduce their children to improvisation and different instruments so we go in each week with some drums and an instrumentalist and we create some rhythms together. It’s currently fairly organic and we are learning as we go!
How could primary teachers/music specialists apply some of your ethos into their own teaching?
Music is supposed to be fun, exciting, liberating, and experimental. The best way young people are going to get involved in the creative process and learn from it is if they are invited, and if the activity is fun. I think talking to them about what kind of music they would like to play, what their music life is like at home, if they have creative ideas they can lead and explore with their peers are all ways to build a good musical environment. If we give the young people the opportunity to lead the process of what music they want to explore, how they want to create it, there is more chance of them staying engaged and taking it on further.
How do you feel primary schools need to diversify their music curriculum?
I expect that every primary school is different in their understanding of a diverse music curriculum. We just believe that young people need to be introduced to a wide spectrum of great music that includes music by people who look and sound like them and who have the same heritage and ancestry. There is so much amazing music in the world. Our young people in schools across London have such a diverse range of cultural backgrounds. They should be hearing and playing Afrobeat, Samba, Funk, Jazz, Salsa, Calypso as well as classical and pop music in the classroom. Some of the children are probably experts in these genres and can share what they love as much as the teacher can. The only way we will build a diverse musical future is if our young people grow up seeing themselves in the musicians they are introduced to and see a pathway they can follow.
For more information on our attitude to Music Repertoire check out:
"I found my conversation with Tamzyn thought-provoking and used it to reflect upon the curriculum we teach at my school, not only during Black History Month but throughout the year. What do you do to ensure your curriculum is relevant to the children you teach?"