> AMPLIFI at Queen’s Hall (Simone Seales, Aref Ghorbani & Elaine Cheng) review - SNACK: Music, film, arts and culture magazine for Scotland

AMPLIFI at Queen’s Hall (Simone Seales, Aref Ghorbani & Elaine Cheng) review

Love Begets Love

I found myself at The Queen’s Hall in Edinburgh on a very windy winter’s night on the 22nd November. I was there in a different capacity from audience member or performer, to film for a documentary I’m making about the history of girl bands in Scotland – and look,  I know, I know, how is AMPLIFI relevant to this? There wasn’t a girl band in sight. I was there because I’m working on an end section of my film that aims to shine a light on the brilliant work being done by grassroots, DIY, artist-led initiatives: platforming voices, people, and art that otherwise might go unnoticed, unheard, and unseen.

In Scotland there has been a boom in initiatives like AMPLIFI over the last ten years – a growing network offering peer-to-peer support, guidance, mentoring, and opportunities. It fills me with hope. I’ve been around on ‘the scene’ for a while. Seventeen years, to be exact. I cut my teeth in venues in Edinburgh that no longer exist, way back in the early noughties.

Sometimes I question whether things have really changed, especially when the line-up for Scotland’s biggest music festival is announced and yet again it is white-cis-male-heavy. Was I surprised? Absolutely not. Do I have the energy to air my views on my lack of surprise? I’m not sure any more. Sometimes it feels like no one cares or is listening. Sometimes it feels like shouting into the void.

AMPLIFI is curated by Arusa Qureshi and Halina Rifai, two incredible women working in the Scottish music scene who aim to shine a light on the sound of modern Scotland, amplifying the voices of Black and people of colour creatives. I interviewed them for my documentary at the beginning of 2023 and left with even more questions than I already had, buzzing about my head. Questions about diversity, equality, representation, fairness, and ‘having the chance to fail’. Questions about community, tokenism, and need for change at the top. A particular quote from the interview still rings out:

‘Don’t get me wrong, there’s some great people who are white and male, but you know […] it’s always tokenistic. It’s like “we’d better do this”. “We’d better put women on, you know, we need to do something around disability here. Oh, we need to have some people of colour here”. But they are always leading as a white organisation or a white male within the music industry as opposed to actually doing the learning and just systemically making the change. And that is the problem. They are not living it. They’re just – it’s just a facade, for me.’Halina Rifai, Since Yesterday: The Unsung Pioneers of Scottish Pop

It was such an inspiring interview.

I often get asked why I’m making a documentary specifically about girl bands, and I always answer ‘lived experience’. I helmed the TeenCanteen gang between 2011 and 2017. It was my family. My sonic sisterhood. Speaking to members of girl bands before me validates my own musical existence. I’m not alone. I don’t feel the need to have to justify my creativity any more: the sonic sisterhood spans unconnected decades and bands.

I don’t think any artist should feel alone.

On the 22nd November, on one of those typical Edinburgh nights where you walk, head down, coat buttoned around your neck, straight into the harsh east coast wind, I entered The Queen’s Hall to do a job – to film and document, to observe through a lens. A barrier, a device that separates and, in a way, isolates. Aloneness. But I felt the exact opposite.

The atmosphere and environment cultivated within the space was one of warmth and welcoming. Come in out the cold. There was a passion in the air – was that it? Is it the right word? It almost felt celebratory. It felt safe.

The line-up consisted of three artists. First up was Elaine Cheng  鄭依玲 – a composer/sound artist from Edinburgh and of Hong Kong descent. Her practice is largely based around producing drone music from analogue and modular synthesisers, and comes from a compositional background in electroacoustic music. Elaine’s set was a meditative hug of synth and field recording compositions: she stood amongst neon lights and vocalised hypnotic ahs that enveloped everyone around the room in waves of sonic morning sunlight.

Photo Credit: Arusa Qureshi

Next up was Aref Ghorbani: a classically trained Iranian musician who came to Scotland as a refugee in 2018. He is a key member of the Musicians in Exile community project, which brings together asylum-seeking and refugee musicians in Glasgow and which won the 2019 Scotland’s National Diversity Award for Community Organisation: Race, Faith, Religion. Aref, and two friends playing setar and acoustic guitar, sang folk songs in words my naive ears didn’t understand, but somehow through the power of music, felt. Moments of solemnness burst into pure joy. The musicianship was world class, and he spoke of the elation of the freedom to make music.

Photo Credit: Arusa Qureshi

Last to perform was Simone Seales, a Glasgow-based cellist, poet, and performing artist. They focus on improvisation, poetry, interdisciplinary collaboration and devising music for theatre. Simone is passionate about exploring how sound can reflect emotional states of being, and how those emotions are embodied. Simone is quite possibly, after witnessing one performance, my favourite artist in Scotland. Armed with a loop pedal and cello, they gave themselves to the spontaneity of the moment: textures and sounds and FEELINGS, creating the music that would exist for one night only, in one space, with the people there to experience it with them.

I almost felt guilty about filming the pieces generated in front of me in real time. There is something about recalling a memory of a live performance that, for me, film and photographs can never capture.

Photo Credit: Arusa Qureshi

I left Edinburgh after the event, contemplating how the best music I have seen, heard, and experienced in the last few months has been in the smaller venues, and is curated rather than booked. Is led by passion. And love. Is community based. It spans genres and people. It relies on people turning up and buying tickets to keep it going. It’s interesting. It transcends music and art. It’s welcoming. It’s ethos driven.

During their set, Simone spoke of world events and debated whether or not, as an artist, they could speak freely about their feelings and views between compositional performances. They said, ‘Hate begets hate, and love begets love.’

This morning, I wonder if I really am shouting into the void.

This morning, I am thinking about quiet acts of love, and how many voices can build a choir, and how a choir is powerful and singing is sad and beautiful and gentle and loud and inquisitive and demanding, and how I don’t know if things will change, both locally and globally, in music, in politics, in life…

This morning I am thinking about how Do It Yourself is really Do It Ourselves, and that there are a lot of good people in the world. I’m also reminded of a recent tweet from one of my favourite artists, Yoko Ono. I’m still not sure if it’s relevant to this piece of writing I have just typed up, that no one asked me to write, but I’ll end on it anyway:


Two scientists, who were researching the effect of waves in the ocean for two years, came to the conclusion that the smallest stimulus to the water, be it a drop of a pebble, or a child splashing the water at the shore, affects the whole ocean, each time. 

Well, I thought, we do affect each other on land, but I hadn’t realized that that was true in the ocean as well! What a blessing! 

So now I call ourselves the small pebble people. 

Send small pebbles to the world. Don’t make big splashes with large stones. That will attract people and the wrong people as well. 

Our quiet revolution will not make announcements, but one day will be accepted by all people as the norm of life. The human race has done that with many things. 

This time we want to heal our planet, and bring peace to this world. We will.

Yoko Ono
Stone Piece, Yoko Ono, 2015 / 2018 © Yoko Ono. Photo: Tara Fillion

The next AMPLIFI takes place on 13th December and features peformances from LAMAYA, Ziggy, and CH Unspoken. Tickets available here.

Main Photo Credit: Halina Rifai

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