Featured image: Shirlaine Forrest
Lavender Rodriguez is a Manchester-based composer/producer who is entrenched in the city’s vibrant music scene. They work, both as part of a band playing bass and as a solo artist, creating their own evocative compositions that portray audible representations of a wide range of topics, from mental health to political activism. They also played a big part in the local community with a range of music-based social development projects and live events.
Celebrating queer artists is just one example of Lavender’s involvement with supporting underrepresented communities. The composer also plays a big role in various projects aimed at empowering groups, who have previously been neglected, through a shared love of music. They are currently working with Manchester Camerata on the creative composition project Hidden Histories.
In this project, Manchester high school students from four different schools will take part in four workshops over the course of a month. Led by Lavender, the students have the opportunity to explore music by composers who have been previously overlooked due to their skin colour, ethnicity or gender identity.
The project embeds creative music-making within schools while also showing the rich diverse tapestry of classical music. This series of workshops focuses focusses on 20th Century composers including Ruth Gipps, Undine Smith Moore, Scott Joplin and Julius Eastman.
aAh! talks to them about their music, the importance of identity and how representation in music can create a loud effect.
What drove you to become involved in the music industry, particularly in composing?
I couldn’t see myself anywhere else and being as happy as I am now. I wanted to take the risk in an industry that is not very stable so that I could be happy. Mental health is a big thing for me, ultimately accomplishing what I want in my lifetime and being happy while I do that was only really achievable for me in the music industry. It’s been rough but it’s all worth it!
What reaction do you aim to achieve in your composition?
The whole point of a composer is to manipulate people’s feelings, whether you are trying to make them happy or sad, confused or scared. If the audience is left passive then you haven’t really done your job as a composer. A lot of the music that I try to write I go in with the idea of making people move in some way, whether that is dancing or in some sort of horror or sadness.
We spend so much time in our bedrooms listening to music on headphones etc but it’s all about community so I really want to bring that to concerts and audiences where we are all moving together as one and don’t really care about who we are or what we are doing.
Do your creative ideas mainly stem from the outside world of social/political issues or more personal feelings and circumstances?
This is interesting because in the last three or four years this has definitely altered a lot. My work before would mostly be based on other people’s experiences but when the pandemic and the death of George Floyd happened, I kind of switched my narrative. Especially with the brutal murder of George Floyd, I felt that if there isn’t enough voices in this industry then things won’t change. My existence in itself is political as there are people around the world that would say that I shouldn’t be given the rights that I have because I am queer or because I’m a person of colour or because I have ADHD, so often personal and political ideas coincide.
What attracts you to the idea of working collaboratively?
The best way I write music is by working directly with other creators. I really value that time because I tend to work better by bouncing off other people’s ideas and developing that. It’s a lot more fun as well. As humans, we prefer talking to people and we definitely learned that in the pandemic. We really valued touch and speech and being able to react in the moment rather than online and that goes for creating music as well.
Your latest track Apollo has a more electronic, bedroom pop feel. Is this new sound something you are looking to explore more?
Yeah definitely. I’ve kind of strayed half of my work now into the electronic feel. I did a gig recently that was celebrating queer electronic artists in Manchester. A lot of that was Afrobeat/Neo-soul and I think just as valuable for me and a lot of the things I learn from producing I can take to composition and vice versa.
How important do you feel it is to give visibility to underrepresented artists within classical music?
I always find it weird sitting in a world that is mainly represented by a Eurocentric view and white privileged males. Especially nowadays with globalisation and everything melding together culturally, I think it is really important to give voices to those who haven’t had that stage or that presence before.
How did you feel as a young musician and person of colour entering the world of classical music?
I didn’t think composition was a viable career when I was a kid, I was surprised it was even a thing. Again, the way it was presented in education was that it was made by dead white males so I really couldn’t see myself in that field. There was a lot of doubt when I started this and I thought it was just a hobby for a long time.
How are projects like Hidden Histories helping make classical music feel more inclusive?
With Hidden Histories it has been really interesting giving voice to those who have been swept under the carpet. It can be hard to bring their work to light because of what has happened historically, whether they’re black, female-identifying or non-binary etc, but now that the information is out there regarding those issues it is really important to them now so that history doesn’t repeat itself.
I think projects like this really help. One, with visibility and two, with trying out ideas. I really want to ensure kids see that anything is valuable and anything is valid and whatever background you come from you can achieve whatever your brain thinks of. With composition, as long as you have just one single note or one single idea it can take you so far and become this flourishing beautiful piece.
Lavender Rodriguez’s latest song ‘Apollo’ can be streamed on Spotify