East Voices Team (LR Paul Burgess, Sef Townsend, Deepa Shastri, Shamim Azad
A community project amplified the voices of residents of East London with the help of professional storytellers Daedalus Theater Company.
Produced by Rua Arts, community members were able to share a traditional tale from their own cultural heritage or a story from their own lived experience.
Two local cultural organizations – Bishwo Shahitto Kendro London (Bengali) and NUMBI Arts (Somali) – partnered with Daedalus to implement the project funded by Arts Council England.
A host of guest artists were also invited to record stories. There are stories of migration to East London and folk tales that have traveled the world.
There are stories of the struggles people went through in east London, such as that of the Matchstick Girls’ Strike in Bow in the 19th century, and stories about immigration, family and what the people lived before migration, like the way the people of Bangladesh struggled to speak their mother tongue.
Daedalus Theater Company, based in Tower Hamlets, London, is an LGBTQ-run charity that aims to give people from all walks of life the space and support to develop their creativity and self-expression.
Artistic Director Paul Burgess said: “The East has always been about bringing people together across cultural divides.
“Isolation was a problem for many people even before the pandemic, but has been made worse by the lockdown.
“Cultural divides have also been exacerbated, as can be seen in the increased racism against people from East Asia. Sharing stories and songs is an age-old remedy for such problems.
“They bring us together through shared pleasure, they help us express our feelings and experiences, they help us understand ourselves – especially when we learn to tell stories from other cultures – and they remind us of our similarities.
“This is especially underlined by the incredible way the stories travel, with some stories appearing in localized variations all over the world.
“But how do we connect people with stories they don’t yet know, or encourage storytelling skills that they don’t yet know they have? “
He continued, “East Voices is jumping right into this challenge, connecting people from a wider range of communities than we’ve ever done before, including the wonderful CRV (Vietnam Refugee Community) East London, and working for the first time with British Sign Language, not so much as an access tool, but as a rich language for telling stories in its own right.
East Voices builds on an established project and community called East, which invited people residing in or related to Tower Hamlets to share some of the stories brought together by the rich and diverse history of East End immigration.
All recordings are now available as part of the East Voices Digital Series on East Archive: https://eastarchive.com.