HMP Forest Bank Project – June 2019

In June 2019, we ran a project at HMP Forest Bank – a category B male prison in Salford, greater Manchester operated by Sodexo Justice Services. Below, two of our artists that ran the project, Kenny Baraka and Sam Lewis tell us about the project.

The Forest Bank project was transformative. Not simply because of what amazing work came out of it but even more so because of the journey all parties involved – the participants, facility staff and us, the facilitators – made during the time we worked together.

Initially, a majority of the participants were rather reluctant – whether due to their perceived lack of experience, skill, confidence or interest. After a bit of coaxing and rapport building (getting them to talk about the music they listened to and loved, the stuff they hated and refused to listen to and why, along with us sharing the same) we were able to identify the few who had either experience making beats/writing and performing lyrics or the confidence to try and learn how.

Those who were identified then took a lead in the early discussions about the product (i.e. – the album) they wanted to create; mind mapping and agreeing on the theme and some of the subjects and titles of tracks.

Once that was established – with a few of the more experienced and confident ones highly engaged and productive -the first two tracks came about quite easily and organically. The rest, however, proved to be the truly “heavy lifting” component of the project. The ones that wanted to do more only wanted to make “proper” drill music (complete with the run of the mill, dare I say, stereotypical conventions attributed to the music, misogynistic, violence-laden language and all) and the others felt comfortable not really contributing at all.

It took almost an entire day (which when you only have four days to produce the work/product is a lot) to convince the entire group to not only try a different, more innovative and forward-thinking lyrical and topical approach to writing “bars” but also to ALL begin contributing (or at least trying more). And there were moments when it looked like we may not prevail and that the project would consist of 1-2 tracks about nothing incredibly edifying or beneficial to their growth, evolution and futures. But somehow the combined efforts of Sam, Ben, myself and the truly caring facility staff assigned to our project, we were able to shift a few paradigms, turn the tap on a few watershed moments and begin churning out tunes. Tunes that spoke to sadness, guilt, promise, regret, humour and hope. “Victory snatched from the jaws of defeat.”

Kenny Baraka

This project for me was a real breakthrough. I felt that I learnt more about my role than any other project I’ve worked on . I felt that the group we were working with took huge steps forward and out of their comfort zones.

With a great team, Kenny Baraka and Ben Goodall, we were able to challenge all the pre-conceived ideas about what was “cool” to write about and challenging the idea that you can only write authentically about what you’ve lived.

Taking journeys of imagination and still being honest resulted in a varied, colourful and vivid set of songs true to our title ” Dreams and Nightmares”

Sam Lewis

In November 2019, one of the tracks from the Forest Bank album ‘German’ featured on Graham Duff’s mixtape podcast. Graham is one of the UK’s most prolific screenwriters and he has a weekly podcast on Totally Radio. He had this to say about the track:

“an irresistibly deep and nimble groove……You need to buy this tune.”