Awe-inspiring Amies Freedom Choir

“To have the confidence to stand up and sing in front of a large crowd having been through such traumatic experiences is truly awe-inspiring.” Guardian journalist Jessie McDonald writes about a moving performance.

Christmas already seems like a lifetime ago, but the messages from the Amos Trust carol service still ring true. Poetry, spoken word and songs on a range of topics: the climate crisis, racism, women’s rights, the effects of austerity and Palestinian peaceful activism, have stayed with me.

I think because they are topics that most carol services, certainly the ones that I have been to, don’t touch on. But also because, working in journalism, they are stories that come up frequently, but which I rarely sit and listen to directly as a member of an audience.

One of the most moving performances for me was by Amies Freedom Choir. I was struck by their beautiful floral head-dresses lined up against the huge festively-decorated trees in the background. When they started to sing, their voices hushed the entire 400-strong crowd — their voices were powerful, melodic and vibrated with emotion.

One of the most moving performances for me was by Amies Freedom Choir. I was struck by their beautiful floral head-dresses lined up against the huge festively-decorated trees in the background.” 

It was only after the performance that I found out something that made Amies even more extraordinary — each member of the choir was a modern slavery survivor who had been trafficked to the UK, to be forced into either prostitution or domestic servitude. To have the confidence to stand up and sing in front of a large crowd having been through such traumatic experiences is truly awe-inspiring. 

I wanted to find out more about the choir, and Amos kindly put me in touch with Adwoa Dickson, who co-founded the project alongside Annabel Rook. I met Adwoa and we chatted about the effect the choir has on the women who take part.

Amies Freedom Choir

Amies Freedom Choir

Adwoa told me that when some women first join the choir they don’t even feel comfortable saying their name aloud to the group. That is the first thing they learn to do, and something as simple as saying their name helps to reassert their identity and confidence. They then move onto practising songs, and eventually build up to performing, if they want to. Adwoa told me about some of the mental health benefits: focusing on breathing, learning good posture, and being present in the moment.

They always share a meal before practice and there is a crèche so women with children are able to benefit from a couple of hours off. I spoke to one of the choir members, Racheal, and it was clear that the choir is more than just singing for her, it’s a sisterhood where she feels safe.

Adwoa told me that when some women first join the choir they don’t even feel comfortable saying their name aloud to the group. That is the first thing they learn to do, and something as simple as saying their name helps to reassert their identity and confidence.

She told me the choir has helped her start to build a life in the UK and move on from the traumatic way she arrived here. She’s now at university studying accounting, but still manages to fit in choir practice. I used these conversations as the basis for an article I wrote for the Guardian. It was a pleasure to write, but I think the most exciting part for the choir was meeting the photographer, Alecsandra Dragoi, who shot gorgeous portraits for the piece.

Amies Freedom Choir

Amies Freedom Choir

Amies Freedom Choir

Adwoa said the Amos Trust carol service was a highlight for the choir. It was for me too. It was refreshing to attend a festive event where the mic is passed to people who aren’t often given a platform to speak and where a truly diverse range of people are welcome. And really what’s more festive than that?

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Jessie McDonald is a journalist with the Guardian. To read her Amies Freedom Choir article, please visit The Guardian online.

 




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