19-year-old Angeline is an R&B singer, campaigner and aspiring journalist brought up in Rochdale. A Youth Music project has helped her educate and inspire other young people by opening up about her past.
‘Hopes and Dreams’, a project run by local charity NESTAC, brought together young people – including many who came to the UK as asylum seekers or refugees – to share their diverse cultural experiences through music-making and explore the issues they’ve faced in their lives.
Angeline comes from a Congolese community where female genital mutilation (FGM) was practised. With NESTAC’s support, she’s spoken out about her own experience and become a passionate advocate for gender equality and women’s rights.
Drawn in by music
Angeline had always been into music and songwriting, and first got involved with NESTAC when the charity held a series of events combining FGM awareness with open mic performances.
“I started out when I was about 13 because some of my friends used to go along. One year I was in the crowd and everyone was like ‘you should go up and sing!’ The year after, I actually had a planned performance.
“I was mostly interested in the musical aspect, but in the following years, I learned about FGM a lot more profoundly and that’s where my interest came from.”
Angeline’s now been volunteering with NESTAC for several years, and they’ve supported her to train as a youth leader mentoring younger group members.
Raising awareness in the classroom
During Angeline’s final year of sixth-form college, she ran a project with NESTAC’s help, offering her fellow students the chance to sign up and learn about FGM.
“I created sessions and did a presentation on FGM, the origins and how you can prevent it. We ended up making a book of drawings and poems inspired by the project.
“That was probably my proudest achievement. All the feedback I got shows that young people do care. Everyone was so supportive and willing to learn and get involved.
“When I found out about the Hopes and Dreams project, I wanted to do that as well because it involved a lot more music.”
'Hopes and Dreams'
Listen to the track which Angeline created and performed with fellow participants in the project.
Self-expression through songwriting
Angeline became a senior member of the Hopes and Dreams group. She balanced her involvement in the project with her first year of studying broadcast journalism at university in Leeds.
“It was a lot of stress at uni, and coming back to the project was kind of a relief, because everyone was expressing themselves and having fun. Even though we were talking about a sensitive topic, it was a really fun project to take part in.
“I think music helps people to communicate because it’s not so direct, and you don’t have to say ‘this is what I’ve been through’. People will sort of get the vibes from whatever you write and they can relate to that. You can keep certain things to yourself so you don’t feel too vulnerable.
“It helps me to talk about my personal experiences, but I can hide behind the music in a way, even though I’m still talking about what I was going through.
Angeline’s now in her second year at university and planning for a career in journalism. But she’s still working hard on developing her songwriting.
“Working with professional musicians through Hopes and Dreams has had a really big influence on my writing and composing skills. It’s helped me learn to write from my own perspective and talk about things that people can relate to in music.
“My all-time favourite artist is Lauryn Hill. She was the first artist where I really listened to her lyrics – she makes you listen to what she’s talking about. She talks about important things in her music and that’s what I want to achieve.
A powerful advocate
The main advice I give to other young people is not to be afraid to speak about issues like FGM. I know they can be taboo subjects but if I’m a young person going out and being an advocate against FGM, I hope it can encourage other young people to do the same.
“It’s not something to be ashamed of – you should be proud of yourself for going out and speaking about things like this because you are making a difference. That goes for discrimination and all sorts of other things, not just FGM.
“I think it’s important for young people to speak up for people who can’t speak up for themselves. When I educate younger people I hope I’m letting them know that it’s okay to speak out about issues that may not affect you but that do affect other people.