I’m originally from Ghana and I came to study at GCU in 2008 to do Masters in Biomedical Science, and then stayed to do a PhD. I was only between the university and home, I wasn’t really integrated into the community. I’d go to shops and church but I didn’t have that connection.
When I had my daughter in 2017, I sat down and got a piece of paper and listed all the different mother and toddler groups around me and then would go here and there. Then I realised that one of the groups was in the building where the Joyous Choir meets, and I was talking to the nursery staff and I was telling them I was really interested in doing activities because I was really bored staying at home. And they said, do you know about Maryhill Integration Network? I’d never heard of them.
So I went in on a Thursday and they had a Ladies Group where women create poems or have a lively discussion, and they would arrange a creche so the children don’t need to stay with us and we could really have our own space to discuss and have a laugh and a snack. I really loved it. At one of the Thursday meetings a lady came up to me and said: “You look like someone who could be in the choir.” I was like “No!” [laughs]. I said I don’t think I can sing and stand in front of people to perform. But she said: “It’s not about the singing and the performance – it’s about the connection with other women.” I’m from Ghana and she said some of the songs are from Ghana, so on the Monday I went in and my first meeting I’ll never forget. I’d never met any of the ladies there cause these ladies don’t usually come for the women’s group on a Thursday afternoon. So it’s a totally different group. But they all related to me as if they’d known me forever. It was so warm and loving. They’d go through some of the songs and initially I was just humming along. They really like to dance and sway about – not just sing and stand still – and that really catches you. So after the first meeting I thought ‘I like this place!’ and I kept going.
When we do a performance it’s just lovely – it’s not about you singing, it’s that atmosphere that’s created, which I think we appreciate while performing, but for the audience they appreciate us spending time to connect with them that way. So my story continued from then. Every single meeting, I made time and I committed the time to going on a Monday evening, and because the kids were catered for it made things easier.
The songs too are very inspirational. We don’t just sing songs for singing’s sake. So before the session we do a bit of yoga, exercise to warm ourselves up, warm our voices up and relax, which is fun in itself. Then we get the background of the song, where it came from, what it means, who wrote it, the circumstances surrounding the song. The songs can be lively songs, lullabies or things going on that someone just sang. After we learn the song and sing, we have a breaktime and that’s when the discussions come up. Because we all connect to the songs one way or the other. So it’s not just singing, but we also have those lively discussions which relate to me as a person. So I learn so many things and other people learn other things from us. Despite our different cultures, we have so many things in common and many differences too, and all that comes to light in such a session.
I appreciate the fact that I am surrounded by so many people from all over the world and I have not visited these places but now I connect to people from these places and I feel it’s really good for me. I’ve learned so much and also, apart from that connection personally, I think that it’s increased my confidence. I’m now very person-related. Beforehand I’d say “Oh, Hi” and that’s’ it! But now I can actually engage with people more, connect with people more.
It’s something very rare, to have a song with so many different languages and then women coming together to sing it. Every single song is so inspirational. We even created a lullaby with our own children’s names in it, in different languages. So it’s difficult not to feel loved and connected to such a thing.
During the pandemic, for me it was good because I got to connect with others, connecting with songs we love and remembering that we are all together in the same boat, going through the same thing and we are all kind of leaning in and holding each other’s hands to just get through it. So it keeps you going, looking forward to seeing them. And we’ve also got a group chat, so when you see the person on screen and maybe they’ve put something on the chat I feel like I’m connected better.
When I sing with the Joyous Choir, I feel happy, almost floating…something comes alive within you, and even after the meeting, the whole evening you feel happy because, I don’t think we all carry loads, but you feel like something’s lifted off you, or you’ve seen a light, something of that sort. You’re pleased you did it. You’re pleased you sang. And we get to wear our traditional attire. So I think maybe for me, that also gives me a sense of home.
The Joyous Choir has now made me love singing, and personally I think it’s because we are a very diverse group and what we do is very unique. I have a feeling our choir stands out because we are women from all over the world with different experiences. So whenever we all agree to sing a song, the emotions, the impact that we generate is really massive. And also we kind of look out for each other too. We call ourselves “sisters”.