Kinship of Difference – using music to heal divides

23 May 2022

Kinship of Difference | NICRC

The cathartic nature of Music is being utilised to start healing divides within Northern Ireland. As well as culture, conversation and the arts – all utilised to great effect in this new video series hosted by renowned musician Tommy Sands.

The unique remit is to provide different communities space to express their heritage, while then also challenging them to listen to others’ cultural expressions.

And it is here, in this surging confluence of ideas, that the show excels. In those crystalline moments of understating and acceptance. In those genuine glimpses of tolerance and respect.

All held together with consummate aplomb by the sagacious host Tommy Sands whose ultimate task is to bridge these disparate cultural strands – all in a confined studio setting. No easy task indeed.

Just as well then there’s plenty of craic to help smooth over the rough edges of clashing cultures.


In tune with kinship

The video series Kinship of Difference has now completed its first season, with more promised on the way. The project was delivered by Artsawonder – who aim to create the space for people to work together to see pre-emptive reconciliation happen to avoid further conflict.

The Community Relations Council supported the project through its CR/CD Smalls Grants Scheme.

“Although Music has often been twisted into a fist,” Tommy Sands said, “its essence is of harmony and unity with qualities to sooth, heal, and put people at ease.”

The participant list is a who’s who of every imaginable sector, from environmental activists to politicians, and sporting managers to reverends. Not to mention the plethora of musicians and musical styles on tap.

It’s no surprise that the show is described as “in tune and in conversation with.”


But how is this all brought together?

“A theme is chosen and participants are sent some questions to facilitate their reflections,” Tommy said.

Which sounds deceptively simple. But then from this you get the following golden moments:

  • A Zimbabwean dancing Irish dance.
  • A Former Presbyterian Moderator reciting a funny poem.
  • Pete McGrath, Down All Ireland GAA Manager, inviting Lambeg Drummer James Donaldson (Brother of Jeffery) to play in Croke Park.
  • Politicians from different political backgrounds singing together – such as Boys from the County Armagh sung with Danny Kennedy (UUP Chairman, Armagh All Ireland GAA medallist Footballer and SDLP MLA), and Mitchel McLaughlin (former Assembly Speaker and Sinn Fein Chairman).


Breaking barriers

It takes quite a bit of solid planning to pull the show off.

Tommy explained: “The filming team was booked for two days: one day to set up (as the room is not a studio normally); and one day to film. All of the Artsawonder team was engaged in working for the day and many days before to book people to ensure they were free at the time we needed them.

“Of course, many had to change at the last minute and some of the script had to be altered to fit with availability.”

An important point is that flexibility is essential.

Tommy continued: “The key is to have a very flexible filming team and facilitator. It’s also important to have a person who notes what has been done, and not done – as the original plan is always changed.”

Also imperative is the idea of introducing participants to each other beforehand.

“It was very important to be with them and to introduce them to other participants,” Tommy said. “It is important to be aware at all times that we were breaking barriers, and the most sensitive are not necessarily those we see.”


Occasions of togetherness

Joining up the dots is what Tommy believes the show is all about.

He said: “We feel it is important not only to reach out to individual people and places, but by creating a series of programmes to join up all the dots and let people and groups be aware they are not alone – that there are other similar groups thinking in new and positive ways.”

And although live performance is a wonderful thing due in no part to its fleeting nature, it does on this occasion bear the scrutiny of being recorded.

“Momentous occasions of togetherness can last but a moment,” Tommy explained, “except experiences are marked or recorded in some accessible way to create continuity and inspiration.”

And it is this concept that has led Artsawonder to some eye-opening moments:

“One line that impressed us very much was when Danny Kennedy expressed his sadness at the demonisation of the Orange Order,” Tommy said. “We feel we may have a role to play and decided that the next events should happen in mainly PUL context to give more of a voice to those communities.”

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