Dean Rodney. Image credit: Pau Ross and Adele Jeffs.
Cherry Franklin of creative arts organisation Heart n Soul talks with autistic musician Dean Rodney about a global project to bring together musicians and dancers with and without disabilities from all over the world as part of Unlimited, a 10-day arts festival during the Paralympic Games.
What does it take to turn one musician’s idea into a global project involving 72 different musicians and performers and spanning seven countries across the world?
From Deptford to Sao Paulo, Cape Town to Shanghai, the Dean Rodney Singers is a project that has travelled a long way, growing from one song into an entire fantasy universe populated by unique characters and creatures. Lead artist Dean Rodney describes how it all began:
I had a dream about the band when I was 18. I was talking to one of the members of the band, and I said ‘Wow, that’s nice music you’re playing. What’s the name of your band?’ ‘DRS,’ they said. ‘What does that stand for?’ ‘Oh, I don’t know,’ they replied. I said ‘I’ve got an idea; DRS –that’s the Dean Rodney Singers.
Working with his band, The Fish Police, Dean wrote a song about his dream, ‘The Whole World M.I.M.I.’ This became the inspiration for the project, which brings together music, video and film produced by the Dean Rodney Singers in a creation of Dean’s fantasy world. Commissioned by the Unlimited programme, part of the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad, the material will be brought to London in a unique installation at the Southbank Centre from 31 August to 9 September, created in partnership with the Department of Creative Computing from Goldsmiths, University of London.
Together with creative arts organisation Heart n Soul, he has gathered band members from the UK, China, Japan, Croatia, Germany, South Africa and Brazil. The bands bring together musicians and dancers with and without disabilities from a wide variety of backgrounds. They include a blind opera singer from Berlin and a drummer from the north of Brazil who had never left his village before joining the project.
Together with Heart n Soul’s Artistic Director Mark Williams and project music mentor Charles Stuart, Dean has been travelling to each of the countries to meet the band members. In just under three weeks they’ve visited Germany, South Africa and Brazil. Dean says, ‘It was great. I saw the TV Tower in Berlin, ostriches and penguins on the beach in Cape Town, and ate sushi in Sao Paulo.’
While in Brazil the team took part in an Afro-Brazilian Terreiro de Umbanda religious ceremony. ‘It was in a house,’ Dean explained. ‘There were a lot of people playing drums, a lot of people singing, people lighting candles, lots of dancing. I danced. [Bandmates] Charles and Mark danced. I sang. I liked the music, it had a good drumbeat.’
Despite spending so much of his time in airports recently, Dean has not become blasé about travelling. ‘I still get excited by the airplane,’ he said. ‘I like to sit by the window, and I love it when it takes off.’
But for all the excitement of travelling, it’s still meeting the band members that he most enjoys: ‘I feel happy when I meet the band members. I’m excited that they are involved in the project. I liked meeting the band members in South Africa and seeing the girl in the Puma shoes.’
Charles, Dean and Mark are now packing their bags again, ready to take the project to Croatia, Japan and China. But the journey doesn’t stop there. Team Dean plan to take the installation on a world tour, bringing the project to even more people. From a dream to a song to a global band, keep watching to find out where the Dean Rodney Singers will go next!
Listen to Dean’s favourite tracks from the global band so far:
Watch the video below to learn how you can get involved with the Dean Rodney Singers by filming your own dance moves and remixing the band’s music.