Q&A: YolanDa Brown

Rebecca Pizzey
Thursday, February 1, 2018

YolanDa Brown is a double MOBO awarding-winning saxophonist and composer from London. She has worked with musicians such as Jools Holland and Lemar, and was recently appointed chair of Youth Music, the national charity that invests in projects for children and young people who may be experiencing challenging circumstances. She spoke to Rebecca Pizzey about the possibilities of the role.

Sian Trenberth Photography
Sian Trenberth Photography

Congratulations on your new appointment as chair of Youth Music! What do you hope to achieve in your tenure?

I'm so excited – it's a fantastic charity. For me the aim is to raise the profile of Youth Music. I had heard about it before, but I think it's the best-kept secret in music education – and I want to make it a household name so that people understand the work that's done to finance all these great initiatives. When I was reading the impact report, I found that the charity funds over 350 initiatives – but that's only a third of the applicants it gets, so two thirds are turned down. It's not because they're not good enough, but because there isn't enough funding. So it's also about increasing the fundraising. We already have the Give a Gig Week, which helps to raise a lot of revenue, but more can be done.

What kind of support does Youth Music offer to help break down the barriers that many young people face to a rich music education?

It's important to understand first what the barriers are. There are economic and nationality barriers, and disability. There could be a student in a refugee situation, or someone who lives in a remote part of the country. When you hear: ‘I want to make music but I can't because there's not enough in my area’, that's where Youth Music can step in. A lot of the initiatives happen outside of schools, so musicians can have control of their music-making, presenting the opportunity to learn in a different way rather than to a set structure. I love hearing about people coming back to mentor others – that mentality of giving back is important.

What more can be done in terms of access – getting music to everybody and not just able, middle-class people who can afford private tuition?

It's about allowing young people to know there is something for them. When we think of music education, we think of learning a traditional instrument and doing a couple of performances in a year, but music can be more therapeutic. I just read a great Youth Music case study about young people with disabilities who can't necessarily play traditional instruments, and Youth Music had sourced iPads so that they could make music. For me, music is more than a performance or learning a set of techniques; it's like writing in a diary.

Do you think that genre diversity plays a part in music accessibility?

I think it is important. There are so many genres being invented every day, which I'm part of. I play jazz, and yes, I play the saxophone – but I mix it with reggae and soul, and some people might not understand that. But it's important because that's my natural rhythm, so young musicians might have a natural rhythm that isn't a traditional one, but they will still be amazing music-makers.

What other things from your own experience will you draw on in your new position?

In my ten years within the music industry I've worn many hats, from giving workshops to musicians in both very privileged and under-privileged areas, to lobbying at the Houses of Parliament, and to showing primary school teachers how they can bring enjoyment back into music. So what I'll bring as chair is those ideas of progression: it's not just about learning an instrument for six months, it's about letting young people understand what the industry holds. I think Youth Music does great things with that, where it's helping school staff see that it's not just about what the pupils are doing that term, but also what they could do later on.

Youth Music's Give a Gig Week will take place from 16 to 25 March 2018. The aim is to have 100 gigs take place to raise money for the charity, and anyone can organise one. To find out more visit www.youthmusic.org.uk/giveagig