The Yoruba Soul Jazz at the Thamesmead Festival – a show put on by GMFA
The Yoruba Soul Jazz at the Thamesmead Festival – a show put on by GMFA

You might have heard of its local gigs around Greenwich and Lewisham boroughs, but the pandemic has seen Global Fusion Music and Arts reach far beyond southeast London, as NIKKI SPENCER found out.

Putting on events via Zoom isn’t how Global Fusion Music and Arts was expecting to be marking its 20th birthday this month.

“We were planning to celebrate with live music and fireworks, and we had a whole year of theatre productions and festivals organised,” explains its co-founder and project manager, Louisa Le Marchand. “But we’re still here and that’s the main thing – both the charity and ourselves.”

GFMA began when Louisa and her partner, Gill Swan, and fellow musicians Sukh Saini and Kaz Kasozi, were in a band called The Fusion Factory. They started organising regular world music nights at the Wine Cellar in Woolwich. This then led to them running workshops in schools, and at the Natural History Museum and the Horniman Museum, as well as developing a whole range of projects from film-making for young people on the former Ferrier Estate in Kidbrooke to helping students record their own music.

In 2013 GFMA became a charity, and four years ago, after getting support from Charlton Triangle Homes, it moved into Valiant House, next to The Valley, where it has an office and runs workshops.

“We originally set up GFMA to educate people about the wonder of world music, but we use all sorts of different creative activities to help build confidence. Over the years thousands of people have come through our doors and have benefited from what we do in all sorts of ways,” says Louisa.

When Covid-19 hit, GFMA’s events were cancelled overnight and Louisa was worried the charity might go under. “We looked at our finances and it was scary, but we put an appeal for donations and we raised over £1,000 which was amazing. I have lived in Charlton for over 25 years and the local community has always been so supportive of what we do, and this sustained us to then start applying for grants.”

Back at the beginning: Louisa (second left) with Kaz Kasozi, Gill Swan and Kaz Kasozi in The Fusion Factory

In May last year Charlton Triangle Homes started funding some online community workshops and the following month, GFMA received a lottery community grant which enabled it to take its regular events online and add a few more too.

“2020 was a difficult year but we have just adapted,”, says Louisa who worked as TV producer before she retired. “I am very techy, and good at getting to grips with new skills, which has come in useful.”

GMFA’s spring programme, which is running until the end of this month, includes monthly poetry, spoken word and music nights, a quiz and a writers’ group as well as weekly sessions ranging from storytelling to singing.

“People tell us what a lifeline our events are for them, especially if they are shielding and living on their own and it is wonderful that we can make a difference,” says Louisa.

As well as its regular online activities, GFMA has run one-off events including a virtual Burns Night, Chinese New Year, Fairtrade Fortnight and International Women’s Day (tonight from 8pm).

For its birthday, on March 15, there’ll be celebration on Zoom and Facebook and Louisa hopes to have an outdoor celebration in the summer if restrictions allow.

For many years GFMA has also been helping musicians record their work, and in January it launched ‘Mater’ of Life, a single by a local reggae artist, Setondji Spirit.

Louisa says GMFA has one person – Edna Patterson, who received a Volunteer of the Year award from Greenwich Council in 2019 – to thank for its new global reach.

“She does all our digital marketing and has worked really hard to get the message out.”

What is great about online is you can join in from anywhere. I often ask people where they are in the chat function and I know we have people from the Czech Republic, Sweden and France in our dance fit sessions and someone from the Isle of Arran in our writers’ group.”

When the coronavirus restrictions eased last summer, GFMA was able to put on two live performances at Shrewsbury House in Shooters Hill for Black History Month with the actor Paterson Joseph, which were also streamed on Zoom and Facebook.

“Because the room was quite small and people had to socially distance, we could only have about 20 people for each, but we had over 2,500 watch on Facebook,” says Louisa.

“Thanks to Zoom we have a much bigger audience now and we will be thinking about how to keep them involved once we do go back to live events.”

GFMA in Eltham
GMFA has brought tai chi into the community, such as here in Eltham – now it has gone online
GMFA has brought tai chi into the community, such as here in Eltham – now it has gone online

During the pandemic Louisa and her fellow trustees have been running GFMA from their homes and she is the first to admit that it has been a challenge.

“When we worked in the office it was easier as you left for the day but now I don’t seem to stop. I am working six days a week and most evenings. Last night we didn’t have anything in the programme, but I was writing a letter to a funder until 10pm.”

And they are all doing it on a voluntary basis.

“I’m passionate about GFMA and do it for love, but I am 70 now and I am not getting any younger. Our plan for the future is to try and get core funding to get someone to do my job, and ideally employ two others.”

In the meantime, GFMA is always looking for new volunteers.

“We have an amazing group of trustees who have been working really hard to keep everything going but we are always keen to hear from anyone who has skills to offer”, says Louisa.

GMFA is also looking to raise more money so they can carry on their workshops beyond March.

“We launched a new appeal in December and we have raised another £1,425 so far, but we do need more to be able to carry on doing what we are doing. I am such a strong believer in community and bringing people together and now we need this more than ever.”

Tonight’s International Women’s Day show will be shown on Zoom and Facebook. keep up with the latest Global Fusion Music and Arts events, follow the group on Facebook and Twitter.

NIKKI SPENCER is a freelance journalist who has also written for The Guardian, The Independent, Lewisham Ledger and Peckham Peculiar.

This piece originally appeared on The Charlton Champion. It is one of a series of stories we are running on how people and organisations in SE London have dealt with the coronavirus pandemic.

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