One of the world’s best-known performers on the thumb piano will be the star attraction at Live Theatre this weekend.
Stella Chiweshe is known as the Queen of Mbira in her native Zimbabwe, although she is also renowned as a singer around the world (she has performed at three Womad festivals of world music).
The proper name of the thumb piano, which must be a lot easier transport across continents than a baby grand, is the mbira dzavadzimu.
It is one of the traditional instruments of the Shona people and Stella has been playing since the 1960s when it was even rarer for women to play than it is now.
Stella will be supported by The Crossings Band and both will be heralding Refugee Week (June 15-21), a UK-wide programme of arts, cultural and educational events highlighting the positive contribution made by refugees.
The programme on Tyneside has been put together by Crossings, a community education and integration project whose musical element is represented most noticeably by the accomplished band.
Its line-up includes musicians who grew up in the North East or who came to the region from other parts of the UK or overseas.
It was established by Lucy Fairley, who was born in Belfast but has lived in the North East for 35 years.
Lucy set up Newcastle-based Helix Arts, the charity which creates opportunities to participate in the arts for people who might otherwise not get the chance.
But when she retired she didn’t exactly retire. As she explains: “I was looking round for things to do so I did a folk music degree at Newcastle University because I’d picked up a fiddle a few years before.”
She was then asked to set up a music project for another charity, Action Foundation, and this became Crossings. Music lies at the heart of it and some 50 people meet on Monday nights at its base at Skills for People, Key House, Tankerville Place, Jesmond.
The Crossings Band features the most accomplished musicians, including Lucy on fiddle and lead singer and songwriter Chantelle Howes who has also been involved since the start in 2009. But there are other musical groupings under the Crossings banner.
“We welcome everybody because the whole point is to create friendships,” says Lucy.
“Let’s share what we have and learn from each other to try to create in microcosm the society that we think we should have in this country.”
The Crossings Band will also launch a 10-track album at Sunday’s Live Theatre gig which starts at 3pm.
On Monday, June 15 (5-7pm) Stella Chiweshe will run a free open workshop in singing and mbira playing at Key House.
On Saturday, June 13 an exhibition called People Like Us will open at Newcastle City Library. It features words and photographs by asylum seekers and refugees who worked with writer David Stephenson and photographer Aleksandra Dogramadzi.
Two of the co-organisers, Abraham and Sara, say: “Having been in the North East for about two years now as asylum seekers, we have had the opportunity to meet people who are in the same situation as us.
“We have interacted with them, heard their stories and felt their anguish and pain.
“We have also come to realise that these people, unfortunately referred to as ‘scroungers’ and ‘benefit claimants’, are people full of talent, skills and hopes. They have only fled their countries for reasons they have not contributed to.
“This is what we have tried to highlight in this exhibition. It is an exhibition of their words, their sorrows, their pain, their frustrations and, indeed, their hope for a better and peaceful future.”
The exhibition runs until June 20. On Thursday, June 18, in the library’s Bewick Room, there will be a discussion about asylum with some of the people who took part in it. All are welcome but to book a free place go to www.tinyurl.com/pluevent .
A Refugee Week information stall will be at the Newcastle Quayside Market on Sunday, June 14 (10am to 2pm) and in the Grainger Market on Wednesday, June 17 (9am to 4pm). Crossings musicians will also perform in the market between 11am and 3pm.
Tickets for the Live Theatre concert can be booked at www.live.org.uk or by calling 0191 232 1232.