Sunday, July 31, 2022
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Song to raise funds for orphans in Nigeria

Joel O’Connor is lead singer of the Sydney rock band Andorra. Back in 2006, he and Andorra collaborated with the Aboriginal Housing Company to put on Rock the Block and Youth Rock the Block, bringing some great musical performances to Redfern.

In 2008, when we last wrote about Joel in the SSH, he was using his musical smarts to raise money for the Save the Tasmanian Devil program.

More recently, he completed a rehearsal season in Brisbane for a play he’s written about the fabulous but forgotten Trinidadian pianist Winifred Atwell who moved to Australia during the White Australia era.

He’s also collaborated on a new song with R&B singer Ella Ukhuerbor and her backing band to raise money for orphans in Nigeria – and he’d really love you to take a listen to the song, purchase it and donate if you can.   

The Hope at Last Orphanage is in Lagos, Nigeria, a country with over 200 million people, and more than 17.5 million orphans. What has been happening to orphans in Nigeria that prompted you to raise money for them through your music?
Cost of living pressures and supply chain issues are happening the world over and, in places where the margin for survival is thinner than in Australia, the struggle has been magnified. We’ve also become something of a hermit kingdom in Australia over the life of the pandemic so it’s hard to know, sometimes, what is going on out there in the rest of the world and how the things we are dealing with are affecting others as well.

From my personal experience of growing up poor, I know that access to good and fair education is everything to having a chance at self-determination and, in Nigeria, these orphanages are giving the kids a chance.

What led you to decide to collaborate with Ella Ukhuerbor and her band The Hope Band?
Being locked away over the course of the pandemic led me, like a lot of other artists, to look for alternative ways to stay engaged and setting up ways to record music remotely with others is something I gravitated to. This led me to having conversations online, checking out other people’s music and, through creative connections I have in Africa, start working with Ella. Through musical exchanges with Ella I was also able to observe more of what the pandemic experience was for people in Africa, particularly Nigeria, as compared to Australia.

The depth of hardship was quickly apparent for these children who are completely dependent on benefactors as there is no state system of support, and the scale of the number of children in need brought it home to me that my music could do something, in a small way, to help some of them.

What was it like working with her?
Ella is a boss. A remarkable coordinator who was able to bring the band together, based around my ideas, while also juggling her life as a single mum and someone running their own catering business. Not working in person presents its challenges, of course, and you’re not there in the moment to pause the creative process, analyse it and make changes as you feel them. You have to trust that, through your explanation, the other person will make an educated and accurate guess of what you are after and, in Ella’s case, be able to coordinate other people to do the same. She got where I was coming from musically, the vibe of the songs I wanted to draw on for inspiration, and what I was after in terms of tempo and feel and, through a few drafts, was able to oversee the recording as a musical coordinator, as well as the singer, to bring our shared vision to life in the way the rest of the band performed.

The song you collaborated on, “I Believe”, is an upbeat tune – positive and catchy, with a strong message about hope. Why is hope so important now?
We are really taking a kicking as a world at the moment, aren’t we, not just in terms of the repercussions of our impact on the physical planet, but also the psychological slog of enduring through the pandemic, the quality of life impacts from that around living standards and meeting basic needs, and the opportunism in global politics to try and take advantage of distraction through warfare and sabre rattling. It’s a lot we are carrying at the moment and it’s hard to see, sometimes, where the positives are as one crisis after another seems to pile on top of us.

For me, knowing that I can draw on people’s outlooks for hope and bring them together, as I have in this song, and then turn it into something real by making a positive difference in the lives of children in need, who need hope more than anyone, helps keep me going and know that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

You have said that the lyrics came about when you asked a bunch of friends to complete a sentence for you “There is hope because …” Were you surprised by your friends’ responses?
I often like to invite my friends and other artists to give me ideas or contributions I can spin into collaborative works. The year before last I asked people for a stand-out image from a dream they had. I illustrated them and put them in a book to share around.

Other people’s ideas and takes on the world, outside of my head, delight and surprise me. They reaffirm my search for hope and positivity too as it is easy to become jaded and disassociated from a world that seems so opportunistic, is continuing to skew the divide between rich and poor, and is politically paralysed by self-interest against doing the things needed to save its environment.

When people offer me playful, insightful and profound personal reflections like they have for this song, they give me the motivation to go do something with it, because I value their ideas and how they see things.

What will the money you raise through the sale of the song be used to buy for the orphans?
So far, we have been able to buy resources for two orphanages in Nigeria, the Hope at Last Orphanage and the Brainy Kids Orphanage. Ella has been instrumental in this, on the ground, by meeting the managers of the orphanages, getting an idea for inventory and getting that together to deliver to them. We have been able to buy food, basic medical supplies and educational materials for the kids. I have been putting the videos of Ella delivering the stuff up online along with the positive feedback from the orphanages themselves.

There are links on your GoFundMe page to indicate where people can buy the single but also the invitation to donate. How much are you hoping to raise?
If we raised $5,000 we could buy a much-needed minivan for one of the orphanages, to help get the kids around. A target like that would be great, based on what they have described. If we did that I’d be really happy that we’d made a contribution that was going to make a big difference in the kids’ lives.

Why should people buy the music and also give generously?
We are all feeling the pinch, I know, but small contributions from us can make seismic differences for others. To think that there are as many children without parents needing this care, in Nigeria, as there are almost people in Australia, put the scale of their need in perspective. Anything we can do to give a child, within that overwhelming gathering of people, a chance at a good education by having enough to eat, being able to focus on learning, and to develop hopes for their own lives, which they can follow through, is a good thing in my eyes. We want people to listen to our song, share it around, feel uplifted and know that, by enjoying it and supporting it, we are converting the feeling within it into change for children.

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https://www.joeloconnor.net/music

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