LISTEN: ‘Boombox’ by KALA CHNG & Filwood Community
Over the next few weeks Bristol Beacon are releasing a collection of new tracks commissioned as part of its city-wide project A New Song For Bristol, created by a diverse range of artists, inspired by or made in collaboration with individuals and groups from across Bristol.
For the last few months, these artists have been working with groups to create their tracks, and over the next few weeks Bristol Beacon will be sharing these brand-new pieces of music.
‘Boombox’ was written by KALA during the last lockdown and was inspired by members of the Filwood Community, following a Zoom workshop as part of A New Song For Bristol.
Listen to ‘Boombox’, below, and read all about the process of making the track.
Listen to ‘Boombox’ by KALA CHNG & Filwood Community
The making of the track
What’s the inspiration behind the track?
KALA: The local residents and creatives from Filwood and Knowle West area and their stories and experiences (about what it’s been like for them during the pandemic and their hopes for the future) really inspired everything in the track, from the lyrics to the musical choices.
It was an intimate zoom workshop conversation (because it was lockdown and the community centre was closed) where I felt deeply connected to everyone and what they had to share. Me and Alex, the facilitator from Bristol Beacon planned the session to make sure everyone felt comfortable to share and that we asked the right questions to draw out both the sad and the good and the hope going forwards.
As the song progressed everyone’s feedback gave me confidence that the song represented them (and the workshop content), which was really important to me.
How did the creative process work?
I had my piano out in the session ready in the hopes to start writing the music together live but there was so much rich conversation that we ran out of time. At the end I read back all my notes and it felt like this epic summary of everything, like a spoken word piece or something. I also asked people for direction on how they wanted it to sound and how they wanted it to feel.
After the session I felt so inspired I wrote all night and again in the morning. I then went back to it numerous times lyrically, and shared drafts to the Filwood group via Facebook and WhatsApp chats. I then sat at the piano and started just feeling it and the piano notes you hear in the verses just came out.
I then took it to the studio recording/production. It took many mini sessions of writing and creating over a period of weeks and into months by the end.
What was it like creating a song in this collaborative way?
I had to work to what others felt and said, so it was more controlled than the usual way I write. But I trusted the process and I made sure to make it stop and start like a roller coaster and made sure the chorus was positive and dancy vibes, both like they asked for.
I remember regularly pausing mid piano playing and going back to the notes from the session and checking off that each thought and idea was represented, either lyrically and/or musically. While playing piano I also had beats and bass ideas playing in my head sort of like designing them in response.
I also wanted something that felt like mine still as an artist, so I used the music riff you hear in the intro as my little signature Chinese nod (which started as a simple Chinese chopsticks style thing on the keys). I also co-produced remotely with another Bristol producer Tom Wilding (with the match funding I got) which was new for me, and I had to constantly communicate around making sure we stayed true to the song session.
What do you think about the finished product?
I couldn’t be happier with both the final song, the final production (and master), and the video (the latter of the three match-funded by Knowle West Alliance with Lottery funding). I am so grateful for the opportunity to work with the community and with Bristol Beacon on this, it’s been an amazing and learning experience.
I also must thank the residents and creatives who took part in the sessions and shared so much so openly, and who’s cheerleading, feedback, input and video content and ideas throughout the process really kept it feeling special and gave me direction, inspiration, and I really felt part of a team.
They were also the ones who insisted I record myself, as I really was planning not to be in it! It also made me realize that not everyone is as up for their face being on camera like me hahaha!
How has the last year or so been for you, and has this creative process helped you reflect on your experience?
This last year I feel very lucky to have a job and a home and made me appreciate even more all my friends and family and community. I’ve also become a lot more chilled in myself (though still working hard and heavy when it comes to community time). I had a lot of time to write and reflect over the first 6 months of the pandemic as I wasn’t out socialising and gigging, and I think my experience is in the songs I wrote separately to this.
For me this song really is for and with the residents and creatives in the session, without their stories and sharing and input I would have never written it!
Finally, what’s in the pipeline next for you – what are you working on?
I’m working on my new album Star – it reflects on how we are all stardust, we are all (super) stars and we are all cosmically connected. I’ve just released (May 14) a new song from that coming album called The Music about allowing time to do what we love and following our intuition, about finding joy and wonder within our world.
I also want to do more responsive songwriting like this now, for and with others like other community projects and other causes. I always feel really selfish when I make music (a huge ongoing conflict for me) and this enabled me to feel like I was helping others while being creative and using my skills and passions. I also want to try releasing this song as an experiment, to raise money for creative community projects, so it’s like the community input share of the song can feed back into a trust/fund for community use.
Also, as well as finishing this album, I’ll continue to fundraise and run creative projects at Filwood Community Centre, continuing to help celebrate British East and South East Asian talent through BESEA TV (www.youtube.com/beseatv) and I’ve just got a new part time job at Fun Palaces (www.funpalaces.co.uk) helping more communities (like mine), championing everyone’s culture and creativity… oh and there’s talk of a theme tune!
About KALA CHNG
KALA CHNG is a half-Chinese British Pop music artist from Knowle West, Bristol, UK. As songwriter, singer and producer she creates an original blend of Pop music with Chinese sounds (influenced by Bristol bass, grime and dubstep beats, classical Chinese instruments, catchy pop lines, and R&B).
Since 2013 she’s released 4 EPs and 3 albums (some under the name Makala Cheung); debut River (Bristol Live Magazine’s album of the month, Chinese New Year 2014), and follow ups Moon (review below) and Empress launched at her own ‘far east meets west’ Mini Moon Festival (2015+17) and Knowle West Girl launched at Knowle West Fest 2018. Her singles have featured on stations across the globe, and her radio play to date includes BBC 1Xtra and BBC Introducing in the West.
About Filwood Community
The Filwood residents who took part in A New Song For Bristol were those involved in the Filwood Fantastic project and other community projects run through Filwood Community Centre.
Filwood Community Centre is an iconic red brick building at the head of Filwood Broadway, in Knowle West, and a central point of south Bristol. It’s well loved by the community and a point of pride for the positive changes that are happening in the area.
The team aim to bring fun, friendship, and fantastic experiences to the lives of its visitors, hosting a variety of groups, activities and events – bringing social, creative (and sometimes quirky) leisure activities to all.
Filwood Community Centre work to ensure Knowle West and south Bristol people have access to arts and culture locally; giving a well-deserved boost to wellbeing.
About A New Song For Bristol
Back in November we launched A New Song For Bristol, a city-wide project calling out to the Bristol public to submit their experiences of life in Bristol over the course of the last year, through words and music.
Alongside the public callout, we commissioned a collection of new songs created by a diverse range of artists, inspired by or made in collaboration with individuals and groups from across Bristol.
National Lottery Heritage Fund
PRS Foundation Talent Development Partnership
Paul Hamlyn Foundation