Filip, 14, is a jazz drummer who takes part in the East by North East project run by GemArts in Newcastle-upon-Tyne.
The project provides music-making opportunities for young people across the city, including many like Filip who are from Eastern European families that have settled in Newcastle, as well as those from asylum-seeking and refugee families.
The five members of Filip’s group – known as The Marian Band – all met through the project and come from a mix of Czech and Slovakian Roma backgrounds. They meet up each week to rehearse traditional Eastern European jazz songs.
A place to get together
“It was quite strange [growing up] because I didn’t know where to go,” says Filip. “I came here [to the UK] when I was two, and I didn’t have any friends. I didn’t even know how to say a word in English.”
The East by North East sessions for Filip’s group take place at the North Benwell Youth Project, where he’s now been a regular for six years. Economic deprivation is a serious problem in the local area – home to one of the largest food banks in the UK – and opportunities for activities like music-making are limited for many young people.
The youth centre – especially its music room – has been an important social hub for Filip and his friends. “I feel happy that I’ve got somewhere,” he says. “I’ve grown up, I’ve started playing good drums, made more friends. It’s made me more confident.”
“I started playing drums when I was five,” says Filip. “All my family sings or plays on something. My dad taught me to play. I didn’t enjoy it at first, I wasn’t good when I first played. Then I started playing good. [Now] I’m doing drumming lessons in school.”
There had been issues with Filip’s behaviour in the past – both in school and at the project – but youth worker Margaret has seen a definite change. “In the past we had the school’s attendance officer coming to the project looking for him,” she says.
“The music sessions have helped him focus and settle down. He’s grown in confidence, his English has improved and he enjoys receiving positive feedback about his music skills.” Recalling the first time she saw Filip play, Margaret adds: “He just went on the drums and all eyes were on him – nobody knew how good he was!”
Practice and hard work
Filip’s grown into a confident live performer, taking to stages as large as the iconic Sage Gateshead with his band – although he recalls the nerves he felt before one of his first concerts, at local arts venue The Beacon. “I was shy to go because [there were] lots of people, my family was there. I played on the drums and my friend played on the piano. Lots of people were happy that we went and we weren’t shy.”
He also emphasises the importance of discipline and perseverance – qualities he’s developed by practising regularly with the group. “I enjoy [being in the band] because it makes me work with them all the time, play music all the time, never give up with them.”
Filip’s also begun passing on his skills to younger students at school. “I’ll give you an example of a Year 7 boy,” he says. “I got an hour to practise with him, then next day he’s good at drums because I helped him. It was good, it made me feel proud.”
Music vs football
Filip’s chosen Music as one of his GCSE options and plans to keep up drumming for as long as he can. He’s also a talented goalkeeper, having been scouted by several local clubs, and dreams of playing football professionally.
Filip fears that one day he’ll have to make a tough decision between his biggest passions in life – although he’s currently working hard to balance the two. “I don’t come [to music sessions] every Wednesday because I’ve got football matches,” he says. “I had football yesterday. I came here for half an hour and then I went.
“I might stop [making music] when I’m older – like 27 – then I’ll play football the rest of my life. I’d be sad, because if I play for a team, then I will miss music and the friends who I played with – I wouldn’t have any music boys to play with.”