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Rapper, Dancer and Drummer set for New Encounters

A rapper, a drummer and a dancer are the first recipients of Sunderland Culture’s New Encounters bursaries.

The bursaries were launched earlier this year as a way to help performing artists from the city’s Black, Asian and Ethnic Minority (BAME) communities. They are the result of more than a year’s research completed by Sunderland Culture and Sunderland Black and Minority Network (SBMEN). The research mapped the diversity of Sunderland artists and found many groups and individuals struggled to realise their creative ambitions due to insufficient resources, funding and support.

Now three very different artists are benefitting from the first £500 New Encounters bursaries.

Maya Dhananjay, currently studying a Masters degree in events management at the University of Sunderland, has been awarded a bursary to expand opportunities for people to learn about Indian dance.

Maya, who is originally from India and whose mum is an Indian dance teacher, specialises in the Bharathanatyam, Kathak and Odissi traditions of Indian dance.

“I’ve always danced and first performed on stage aged three and now I want to share my passion for Indian dance. I’ve been hosting online classical dance workshops during Covid and I plan to use the bursary to teach Indian classical and folk dances in local venues.

“I’d also like to establish a Bollywood dance group who could perform in community venues across Sunderland. Ideally, I’d like to celebrate the bursary project with a performance incorporating classic and folk dances, guitar and drumming, and music bands – all of which would be BAME led.”

Rapper and composer Stephen Elms plans to use his bursary to write music about the experiences of people during the Covid lockdowns.

“I’m going to start with songs, but what I really want to do is write a musical telling the story of three separate Sunderland households during the lockdowns. The stories would be about people excluded from Government help and I’ve spoken to a lot of people in this position. The songs and musical would take the form of monologues of spoken word and will hopefully be staged live if restrictions allow.”

Stephen, who has released singles as a solo artist and as part of a duo, read about the New Encounters bursaries on Facebook and was delighted with his award. “I’ve been doing this for a long time and it feels good to get some acknowledgment – you get so used to people saying no, it felt really good,” he said.

His duo, He Knows She knows, were X-Factor contestants in 2016 and completed three UK tours and a tour of Japan.

Lacina “Lass” Diabate is a drummer originally from the Ivory Coast. Now a bus driver living in Sunderland, he is passionate about African drumming and leads workshops on Djembe and Dundun (African drumming) as well as African folk dance. He also runs a community voluntary organisation called African Societal Artistique of Sunderland.

“The New Encounters bursary will allow me to run drumming workshops in the local community. If possible I’d like to organise a small-scale performance to showcase the skills developed by my groups,” he said.

Helen Green, Head of Performance at Sunderland Culture, explained: “We want to nurture artists across the city, including those from diverse backgrounds, to help us support a wider cultural offer that reflects all of Sunderland’s communities.”

“I was delighted with the response to our New Encounters bursaries and Maya, Stephen and Lass are worthy first recipients.

“As well as the £500 bursaries, Sunderland Culture is making a further £250 available for their mentoring. We’ll also provide appropriate space for research and development, rehearsals, recording and performance space if required.

“The bursaries also include professional feedback and advice on project and career development opportunities after the bursary has been completed – so you can see our first three recipients are getting a wrap-around package of support.”