From Manchester to Brazil and back again, Holly Prest, Artistic Director of carnival arts organisation Global Grooves, names those who have shaped and inspired her career.

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Iain Mellor

After a chance meeting with local percussion outfit the Bean Brothers’ Bongo Band at my secondary school in 1996, I found myself inspired to make weekly visits to a local community group, Cabasa, to learn about world percussion. 13-year-old me had no idea what adventures lay ahead as I tried out every instrument, soaking it all in and working towards leading the band by age 16.

Band leader Iain Mellor’s never-ending enthusiasm, generosity, and commitment to putting young people first still influences everything I do. It was here that I met lifelong brother in music Leon Patel. When Eraldo de Sá Marques arrived in the UK from Brazil in 2004 – bringing with him a wealth of experience from the Meninos do Morumbi youth music project – he made our Global Grooves family complete.

We are firm believers in practising what we preach, and it’s satisfying to know that our own personal experiences have added such strength and integrity to our work in the community and with young people.

Band leaders: Sam Alexander, Raz Jayasuriya and Christian Weaver

What a privilege it is to say that my first teachers remain a constant source of inspiration, support and love to this day. I met each of these inspirational leaders by attending workshops they were running, and the skills and energy they bring to their work have influenced everything I have done since.

Sam Alexander is a force of nature and shows me what it is to lead with energy, knowledge, and ‘that extra something’. Ravin ‘Raz’ Jayasuriya, who booked me for my first professional workshop aged 17, inspires me with his unrivalled composition skills and focused approach to music education. Christian Weaver is a straight-talking font of knowledge with a deep investment in Cuban culture and incredible technique.

Arts leaders: John Clifford and Dave Moutrey

My formative years spent observing how different individuals lead from the front and taking part in high-energy public performances resulted in a deeper interest in leading my own groups and projects. I set up my performance group Juba do Leão after my first study trip to Brazil. A year later came international carnival arts organisation Global Grooves. 

There are two individuals who have always pushed me to be brave and reach for greater, bolder things. One is John Clifford, previously Arts Development Officer for Oldham, who always throws a tonne of energy at everything and always says ‘yes’. The other is Dave Moutrey, now CEO of HOME, who is known for solid graft and for ‘doing it anyway’, with or without permission.

John and Dave have known both me and Leon since we were teenagers getting involved with Cabasa and Mossley Community Arts, and have watched over our journey from young percussion enthusiasts to people entirely invested in the future of the UK arts scene and beyond. Next year, Global Grooves will become the first Arts Council England National Portfolio Organisation in Tameside, Greater Manchester. We hope we are making them proud.

My international soul sisters and brothers

With a grant from the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust, I made my first trip to Brazil in 2004, aged just 21 and with very little real sense of what was going to happen as result. During four subsequent visits to Brazil over the years, I have connected with organisations and project leaders whose tireless work has inspired our projects at Global Grooves, and have established lifelong bonds with several teachers and musicians.

Zé, aka Missionário José, led a Maracatu (a style of Afro-Brazilian Carnival) workshop in Manchester in 1998 and, without realising it, set me on a course of musical specialism that would shape everything I did after that. His treatment of traditional music in a modern context has been a really interesting process to witness.

Mestre Teté of Maracatu Nação Almirante do Forte took me under his wing, inviting me to experience the dusty outdoor rehearsals of ‘the real Brazil’. Irton Silva, aka ‘Batman’, an instrument maker and community activist in Recife, turned down a higher-paid opportunity to deliver a project for deaf and partially-hearing young musicians. Thanks to his resolve, the group performed in the 2016 Paralympics opening ceremony, which I find a total inspiration.

Silvanny Rodrigues and her project Banda Alana in São Paulo is a constant source of wonder. The culture of love and respect cultivated amongst their young people is absolutely spell-binding, and has hugely influenced how much care we give to each young person accessing our training and mentoring schemes.

My students

Without students, there can be no teachers. The process of sharing and learning is a beautiful circular journey with no end. I envisage it as a constantly regenerating spiral growing higher and higher with each exchange.

I am constantly inspired, energised, and reinvigorated by the members of my performance group Juba do Leão, the young members of percussion outfit Jubacana, every young participant on Global Grooves’ Future Leaders programme, and the many and varied enthusiasts who attend my workshops and commission me to write material for their groups.

I get such a buzz from helping people to explore their ideas and throw the earth down to make their own paths. I am ever grateful for the time I spend in so many people’s company and energy. It certainly influences the types of projects I lead, always thinking of the participants’ experience as a primary concern.

Holly Prest is Artistic Director of Global Grooves.

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Photo of Holly Prest