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I love creating music. I am blessed to have the creative ability of expression through songs.
When I was in a dark place being able to express my thoughts through music literally saved my life. As I sang the words and connected with those emotions I started to heal and I started to grow.
What started as a personal recovery soon became a purpose. I’ve learnt, thanks to the kindness of others gracious enough to share their experiences with me, that I can, through my music, actually create some kind of goodness.
Whilst it may not be the most fiscally rewarding vocation, the emotional fulfilment I get by using music to create something positive is worth so much more than money.
I recently had the privilege to work directly with survivors of domestic abuse, who shared their individual stories with me, to create a song for a Women’s Aid Survivors Empowerment Event, organised by the inspiring, selfless and, quite frankly amazing Vicky Louise Lang.
I was one of the most humbling experiences of my life.
I never underestimated the huge responsibility bestowed upon me. Whilst these stories broke my heart, they restored my faith in the strength of the human spirit.
These selfless, courageous ladies owned their stories. Each of them saying life became better as a consequence of their struggle which they embraced.
I was humbled and as the project grew from a song to a film, I felt immense pressure to ensure the end result captured their stories and desire to help and show others who may be in the early stages of domestic abuse that things will get better.
This became so much more than a song, it became a statement of strength, power and hope.
The timing of this project was serendipitous, as I had not long started a journey of understanding how men help to make women feel safe.
This led to the formation WCID – What Can I Do?
Co-founded with my friend Gauri Taylor Nayar, we created this non-profit organisation with a narrative designed by men and women working together, as a positive step towards preventing domestic violence and reducing gender division.
In this journey I’ve had the privilege of chatting with Gender Equality campaigners and leaders working to end Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWAG) . My eyes have been opened.
When I walk home at night I only consider the “holy trinity” of my wallet, phone and keys and the quickest route home.
As a man, I don’t have to consider what I’m wearing, if anyone has been attacked on this route, how to protect myself. I don’t have to worry about getting raped.
I have learnt there is a long list women need to consider before walking home.
I have learnt that 97% of women will be subject to some kind of abuse, on a spectrum from name-calling up to homicide.
I have personally seen the look of pain in the eyes of survivors as they shared their experiences, and I now understand how they deal with this fear on a daily basis.
I re-wrote the lyrics again and again as every word mattered.
This was not my story or my emotion, yet through this experience, I became able to connect.
For once, I realised I was actually fortunate to be an empath, every word in this song mattered, this song is giving a voice to survivors.
As always Al Steele (producer/co writer) was amazing, he never once lost patience with me as I recorded the vocal parts as best I could. Consciously aware of my limitations I’ll never truly be happy with my vocal performance, but I’m OK with the final result.
As the song grew we added extra instruments….I wanted real strings, real brass, real woodwind, even banjo!!! We basically built an orchestra!!
For the finale, I really wanted a dramatic, uplifting crescendo in order for the listener to “feel” the power, energy and strength of these brave ladies.
Somehow, I managed to pull together 100 female voices from across the world. Each performance, every vocal track provided extra spirit to this recording.
I’m still overwhelmed by the positive communication and support kindly given by each of the ladies, who provided the 100 voices!! I made new friends and reacquainted myself with old friends during the making of this recording. Thank you!!
“Here is to healing… I happen to be 1 of the 100 voices and it was an honour to be asked to do this. Too many women experience this and have for 1000s of years.
To all women out there who feel like they can’t go on, you can and you will.” Caroline Rena
And then to the film…Initially, the plan was for me to perform the song live at the event. However….COVID prevented this, so we decided to make a film!!
In Wales we are surrounded by some of the most beautiful scenery in the World, so we decided to make the most of this gift and filmed on location in The Brecon Beacons National Park, Merthyr Mawr and the mind-blowingly beautiful St Andrews Church in Cardiff.
The insanely talented and patient, Matthew Tyler-Howells, once again, filmed and edited the film. As always he remained calm throughout, even when scenes were changed and new ideas thrown about whilst we travelled tall across South and Mid Wales looking for locations.
You will note in the film the BSL interpretation from my amazing friend Liz Mayhill.
Liz shared the experiences and challenges faced by the deaf and hard of hearing community, particularly in lockdown when domestic abuse cases soured.
Once again, I had no idea, but this strengthened my resolve to ensure these ladies were also represented in the film. We decided to produce a second film, focusing solely on Liz’s performance. Watching it now I’m still in awe of her passionate performance whilst interpreting – Liz is a force of nature!!!
Following the completion of the project I was honoured to be invited to speak at National Federation of Women’s Institute of Wales’ Event on how men can help to reduce violence against women and perform “Free” outside The Senedd. For readers outside of Wales, this is the Welsh Parliament.
My performance closed The “Not in my name” White Ribbon Vigil, in which members from all political parties spoke of their desire to end violence against women. I have never been so proud.
The following day I received a message from the organiser saying…
“Your powerful performance was the perfect ending to the vigil and was enjoyed by all. It is so important to capture the voices of survivors.”
“Your contribution at the stakeholder event was also well received. I would like to thank you for your passion in engaging and empowering men to understand how they can help women to feel safe. As you highlighted, men and women have to work together to end violence against women.”
I was speechless.
I was invited by Vicky from Women’s Aid, to attend the Survivors Empowerment Event, held virtually and the film concluded the event.
In Vicky’s words…
”There wasn’t one dry eye in the room when we aired it”.
Here are some quotes I have been able to share:
“Never did I believe my words could be interpreted to create such a relatable song, I cry now after listening so many times.”
“Mark had this understanding, this lovely nature that doesn’t always come naturally to a male and this I found help me open and share, it was like he understood, didn’t judge and adapted his ways to understand us.”
“Never thought I would ever be able to share to a male and feel safe, Mark was able to do this from day 1.”
Following the release of the song and film, I’ve continued to be humbled to receive further kind comments from campaigners and leaders of organisations supporting survivors of domestic abuse, all of whom I hold in high esteem.
Hira Ali – Author of the highly acclaimed book ‘Her Allies’:
“This is beautiful! Heartbreaking, yet hopeful and inspiring. Thank you so much for sharing this and for doing all that you do”
Rachel Williams – Founder of SUTDA and Author:
“OMG Mark! How Powerful!! WOW!!”
Joanne Archambault – CEO, End Violence Against Women International:
“Beautiful. Thank you so much for your work, and elevating the voices of survivors.”
Welsh Women’s Aid:
“He transformed trauma into art, he not only sculpted a piece of music that all Survivors have related too but has reached others and spoke to them to leave the Abuse.”
Can music have a positive impact on the world……I think so!!
Next up, I’ll be sharing details of my next project…….
An international collaboration from Liberia, West Africa with “The Matsiko World Orphan Choir”…… Watch this space
Listen to Hegsy’s show “Your 80s with Hegsy” every Saturday on Radio Cardiff between 10am and 1pm UK time.
98.7FM in the Cardiff, UK area / live.your80s.co.uk / TuneIn Radio App for iOS and Android
Stay up to date on exciting projects and upcoming events from the Hegsy & The Elements.