Interview: Maryam Ghaffari, Got Soul Choir

There’s community choirs and there’s community choirs.

Take Edinburgh’s first-ever soul choir, Got Soul Choir, for instance.

Colourfully dressed, renowned for their funky dance moves, and fine of voice, you’re more likely to see them singing their hearts out at the Queen’s Hall and the Usher Hall than in your local community centre.

Founded in 2012 by singer, Maryam Ghaffari, the choir has become so successful – famous names such as Mica Paris want to sing alongside them – they now have choirs in Glasgow and Dundee as well as in the Capital.

Indeed, this coming Saturday night, the Got Soul Choir will be strutting their stuff at the Queen’s Hall.

As Madonna herself would say, they know how to ‘get into the groove’.

  • So what possessed Ghaffari to start up the choir in the first place? And why go down the soul route?

“In 2012, I was going through a tough time and was feeling pretty lonely. I found the idea of joining any old social group really unappealing. I wanted to do something so that similar people to me – with a love for soul music – could get together and have fun. You see, soul music, for me, personally, is a bit like a light switch – you flick it, and instantly the light comes on. Also, not having had any children, I wanted to leave something behind. This was quite a soul-searching period for me. I’d been wanting to get involved with some charity work but not as a one-time event – like jumping out of a plane or something like that. So once the choir was born, I knew that was it; that it should become a charity with a purpose of bringing people out of loneliness and isolation.”

  • What sets you apart from other community choirs? 

“Our music genre and energy. Also the fact that anyone – regardless of experience – can join. There’re no auditions and no need to read music. At all our workshops, we rehearse with live accompaniment. We love keeping it live. Finally, I think what sets Got Soul choir aside is our end-of-series concerts. We really go all-out on our productions, although our choir is amateur, our productions are professional. We stop at nothing to give our choir members the most amazing once-in-a-lifetime experience. And finally, the cherry on top is our amazing seven-piece band that is made up of some of the most talented and sought-after musicians in Scotland.”

“We really go all out

on our productions,

although our choir is

amateur, our productions

are professional”

 

  • You have one of the most colourful, upbeat, and visual choirs on the go. How are you all so funky? And how do you decide on what material to cover?

“How are we so funky? Don’t blame us – blame it on the boogie. I choose the music that I really love. The kind of music that makes me dance about my room on my own – and still feel I’m at the best party in the world.”

  • The choir is no stranger to performing at large concert venues. What makes the choir so appealing to a large, widespread audience?

“Our concerts are family-oriented events, where different generations of the same family can go out and have fun together. Families of parents, grandparents and children can all participate in the fun and socialise together. We love bringing people together and make them feel connected – not just in our choirs but also in the wider community.”

  • What are the challenges in running such a choir? You must spend a lot of time on the phone and computer organising, no? 

“Thank you so much for that validation – that is exactly what happens between the workshops, booked gigs and concerts. We’re glued to the phone and computer. The challenges we encounter are to do with organising and arranging things for a very large group of people. And ensuring their safety whilst keeping everything fun.”

  • You’ve had some famous names take part in your concerts. Who else do you have lined up? And who would be your ideal singer to collaborate with?

“We’ve been really fortunate to have had such amazing and talented singers as our special guests. We’re so excited, because at our Christmas concert this year (December 10) we will have none other than the soul queen Mica Paris singing with us at the Usher Hall. Our choirs in all three cities – Edinburgh, Glasgow and Dundee – will come together for a super-special concert celebrating Got Soul charity’s fifth birthday.”

  • There appears to be more women than men in the choir. Why do you think so many women are attracted to the choir? And how do you go about encouraging more men to get involved?

“It’s possible that men are a wee bit more shy. We love our soul brothers in the choir, and there may be less men in the choir, but they sure pack a punch when they sing.  One thing I would say is that joining our choir is a fantastic place to meet people and make new friends in a really fun and relaxed way. It would be fabulous to have more men join the fun. We are currently running a promotion to attract more men, so if you introduce a male member, and they join, you get 50% off your membership. Or, if you introduce two male members, and they join, you get yours free.”

  • Members seem to gain a lot of confidence from being part of the choir. What other benefits does being part of the choir instill?

“There are many well-documented benefits to singing in a choir. In the first instance, being part of our vibrant, supportive and fun community alleviates loneliness and isolation. It is a ready-made social life. Studies show that singing in choirs can improve the symptoms of a range of health problems: Heart Disease, Parkinson’s, Depression, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, Asthma, etc. Singing has also been shown to boost our immune system, reduce stress levels and help people cope with chronic pain. We have members in our choir who report health improvements and relief from chronic pain.”

  • What’s been your best/ worst experiences in running the choir?

My best experience is when the choir members come off stage after a concert and they are beaming, smiling from ear to ear. The joy and excitement that’s etched on their faces and oozing out of their pores is the best thing ever. The worst was being rained off one of the times we sang at the Christmas market.”

  • What can audiences expect from your upcoming concert at the Queen’s Hall?

“They will be in for a night of spine-tingling, foot-stomping and soul-soaring harmonies. We promise an infectious, uplifting and unforgettable night to set their soul on fire.”

  • Describe Got Soul Choir in three words…

“Passionate, raucous, fun.”

Edinburgh’s Got Soul: 100 Degrees Soul, Queen’s Hall, South Clerk Street, Sat 21 May, 8pm, £15 (£12), 0131-668 2019

 Words: Barry Gordon