It looks like a association centre or a campus – inmates alive in aggregate housing, abrasion their own clothes, adjustment advantage already a anniversary – but Kitchener’s Grand Valley Institution for Women is a prison.
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“We can airing about [between buildings],” an bedfellow tells me, “but we can’t leave.”
We’re sitting in a amphitheater set up for a appropriate International Women’s Day program– “International Broads’ Day” as mentor/producer John Copping jokes by way of introduction. It’s an absurd area for a CD absolution concert/listening party. As allotment of the Pros and Cons program, which brings musicians and producers into prisons to assignment with inmates, a accumulation of women from GVI is adulatory the barrage of Undisclosed Area – the aboriginal anthology to be accounting and recorded at a federal women’s bastille in Canada, and the additional to be fabricated through the Pros & Cons program.
As the almanac is played, ripples of acceptance run through the crowd; there is excitement, smiles, acclaim and bashfulness as the women apprehend the accomplished songs for the aboriginal time. The anthology – which is chargeless to download, admitting admirers are encouraged to accord to charities of the participants’ allotment – is accustomed anonymously to assure the women’s identities, but “inside” they apperceive who is singing.
During the drive from Toronto to Kitchener, Pros & Cons architect Hugh Christopher Brown (formerly of the Bourbon Tabernacle Choir and currently complex in active Wolfe Island Records) explained that he started visiting prisons about six years ago in acknowledgment to cuts to programming by the then-Conservative government. In Kingston, the bastille acreage affairs supplied aliment to the prisons, donated to the bounded aliment coffer and boasted an abundantly low backsliding rate. Brown capital to do commodity to advice ample that programming gap at Joyceville men’s prison, and, actuality a producer, multi-instrumentalist and songwriter as able-bodied as a amusing amends advocate, proposed a music program.
Fast-forward a few years and the program, as able-bodied as its aboriginal album, Postcards From The County (recorded at Joyceville), accept been the accountable of an commodity in roots music account No Depression, a TED allocution and an adventure of CBC Radio’s airy affairs Tapestry. Brown has affairs of accretion the affairs to added institutions beyond the country.
In Kitchener, Brown teamed up with Copping, who had been accomplishing her own music assignment with adolescence in underprivileged neighbourhoods. Since the summer of 2017, Copping has captivated account music sessions with a revolving accumulation of inmates at GVI alive on the recordings that would become Undisclosed Location.
Presiding over the barrage affair like a afraid and appreciative mother hen, Copping, alpine and androgynous in high-heeled, agleam atramentous boots, says that the songs on Undisclosed Area are “so honest it hurts, but that’s why Chris and I came here.”
She compares the music to Bing Crosby’s Birth Of The Blues, which sounds like it was accounting in a prison, but in actuality was accounting by professionals. “That’s from the Fake Book,” she says. “This is the Real Book.”
Two above participants now confined time out west allotment their congratulations in a letter, adage that Pros & Cons was an allotment acquaintance that gave them abilities and a voice. In accession to playing, autograph and singing, participants additionally advice with the abstruse ancillary of assembly (for the IWD event, a new sound-engineer-in-training was allowance out). “Emotions are commodity we apprentice to hide,” the letter read. “This was a amplitude to accurate them after fear.”
The actual on Undisclosed Area is far added keyboard-oriented than the folkier Postcards From The County, in allotment due to the instruments accessible and in allotment acknowledgment to the corresponding producers. (Copping is a synth person, Brown added of a roots guy.) Unlike Postcards, which was a mix of originals and covers, the women at GVI wrote all the songs, blame off with a announced chat allotment alleged Demons and affective through folk, gospel, country (Running Back To You sounds like a wry/sad Magnetic Fields country song) and cyberbanking music.
The accompanist of the Bjork-like Secret Survival – in which she sings, “How can I dream to survive?” – tells me that she plays piano but she never wrote songs until accommodating in the program. Her songs started out as poetry. “You accept a lot of time for quiet absorption here,” she says.
Others, like Empress (a date name), had acquaintance with songwriting activity in. She wrote the soulful Lost back she was alone 13 or 14 “but I didn’t accept a accomplished artefact until now,” she says afore singing it for the crowd. Like some of the songs on Postcards, Lost is about faith, but Empress sings it with an R&B/choir articulation that recalls Tracy Chapman.
After the concert, she tells me that she’s co-written songs afore (she specializes in articulate hooks arch up to choruses) but has never asked for credit. She could become a Pros & Cons graduate/ambassador soon: she’s due to be appear abutting ages and wants to accompany music while she studies to become a hairdresser.
After the launch, we airing out through ablaze snow to the music portable. The women appearance me area some of the abracadabra takes place. (The affairs confused about in the multi-faith abbey and gym afore it got a committed space.)
It’s bashful – a few little apartment in which to comedy keyboard or guitar, some still set up to accept overflow prisoners if all-important – but it represents a amplitude for clandestine creativity. In an institutional ambience like this, that’s all too rare.
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