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Freya and Emma keep Carnival flame burning strong in Tameside

Two young performers are part of Mossley's third generation of passionate Carnival artists, keeping the flame alive for Carnival in Tameside.

Dancer and producer Freya Bennett-Nielsen, and musician Emma Marsh, both 23, say Tameside's future as a Carnival capital is safe in their hands.

Freya, from Stalybridge, was 15, and Emma, just 10, when they first caught the Carnival bug, thanks to Mossley's Global Grooves.

Whilst Freya was introduced to the sights and sounds of Carnival when Global Grooves shared an opportunity with Mossley Hollins High School, musician Emma, who already played piano and flute, fell in love with Carnival-style drumming at a workshop run by the same local arts organisation.

Since then, the pair have become part of the fabric of Global Grooves, based at The Vale arts centre in Mossley, which is also the Northern Carnival Centre of Excellence.

Both Emma and Freya have gone from being keen participants in workshops to leading them and Freya, who is also a full time producer for Global Grooves, says it is a 'privilege ' and a 'duty' to carry the Carnival baton.

The two friends have just returned from two months of professional development in Brazil, where they immersed themselves in the country's famous Carnival culture. Supported by British Airways, they visited São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Bahia, Recife and Olinda and say it was the experience of a lifetime. 

Other opportunities to travel have deepened their affection for the international artform, including trips to The Gambia, Ghana, Qatar and Croatia to explore different Carnival traditions and play alongside other artists. 

In June 2022, the pair journeyed to London to take part in the Queen's Platinum Jubilee Pageant. Global Grooves was the only northern group invited to perform. For Freya it was also her debut as a producer, and for Emma, the grand occasion marked her first opportunity to take on the musical director role. Both just 21 at the time, Global Grooves believes they were the youngest producer and musical director at the event, which was viewed by a global TV audience of hundreds of millions.

Mossley's love affair with Carnival began in the 1990s when a musician called Iain Mellor began running Latin percussion sessions in the town’s community centre. Teenagers Holly Prest and Leon Patel, from Saddleworth and Mossley, met at the sessions. Ignited by their enthusiasm for Carnival, they quickly realised they would dedicate their lives to teaching and developing Carnival in Tameside and further afield.

In 2003, when they were in their early 20s, they went on to set up Carnival arts organisation Global Grooves, along with Brazilian friend and percussionist Eraldo Marques.

In 2021, supported by Arts Council England, Global Grooves launched the Northern Carnival Centre of Excellence, which runs residential sessions for Carnival artists from all over the world. Mossley is home to one of only two carnival centres in the UK. The other is the UK Centre For Carnival Arts in Luton.

Global Grooves' annual Future Leaders programme nurtures the talent of young artists from all over the UK, over a series of residentials in Mossley. Both Freya and Emma are alumni of the course.

Holly Prest, artistic director, Global Grooves, said: "Freya and Holly are a vital part of the next generation of Carnival artists in Mossley.

“Having known them since they were so young, and seen them develop both personally, and as Carnival artists, I am immensely proud.

“Tameside now has a decades long affiliation with Carnival and I am confident that in theirs, and other young artists’ hands, it will continue for decades more.”

Freya, who managed her first Carnival event aged 16, whilst sitting her GCSEs, said: "I think something inside of me was immediately lit up by the Carnival vibe; the way that all of the artforms worked together and created some huge energy.

“I was incredibly lucky, through Global Grooves, to meet and dance with some of the most talented teachers, some of whom I still try to spend as much time learning from as possible. I wanted to hold on to that feeling for as long as I could, and try as much as possible to give that out myself.”

Emma said: "I was heavily impacted by the music, dance, costumes, sounds and colours and knew Carnival would be a huge part of my life. I was super curious and inspired so I chased as much knowledge as possible.

"It feels amazing to have been involved with Global Grooves for most of my life. It’s given me so much purpose, and allowed me to develop a unique career path that’s very meaningful and fulfilling. I don’t know what I’d be doing if I hadn’t met them! I was taken at a young age by the stuff they do, and haven’t looked back since."

Looking to the future, Freya said: "I’d like to think of a world where Tameside and Greater Manchester were alive with culture and connected communities. So I think that’s where I need to keep my focus over the next 5-10 years, helping to make that happen."

 

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