Thursday 24 October 2019

Music -Beat(Making) the North African Cool

Travellers generally don’t get a good press. Which adds to the importance of Scottish Traveller, storyteller, singer and piper Stanley Robertson, an immensely cultured man who had a huge repertoire of stories and northeast ballads. 

This ambassador for the cultural traditions of Scottish Travellers is celebrated in the event, Barrie Nicht: Remembering Stanley Robertson (16 November, 6.30–9.30pm). Organised by the University of Aberdeen in his home city, this special performance by a cast of storytellers, singers and researchers will remember and celebrate his immense contributions to local, national and international folk culture. 

‘Barrie Nicht’ is part of the harmonious music strand of the sixth annual Being Human festival, which highlights and shares humanities research across the UK from 14–23 November. It’s now even growing international shoots with collaborations in the USA, Australia, Italy and Romania. 

Led by the School of Advanced Study (SAS), University of London, the festival is a partnership that includes the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the British Academy. The theme for 2019 is ‘Discoveries and Secrets’.  

The festival brings together hundreds of academics and researchers to share their research and ideas with the public. They want to demonstrate the ways in which subjects such as history, classics, archaeology, literature, art history, philosophy and languages are relevant to society, culture and everyday life. 

Public engagement drives the programme, and more than 70 participating universities and cultural organisations are staging some 250 events, many of them showcasing collaborations with artists, writers, collectives and performers, across 54 UK towns and cities. 

Professor Sarah Churchwell, director of the festival said: “The humanities help us to understand what it means to be human. From global issues like climate change and the rise of political extremism to hyperlocal issues affecting communities who feel left behind, the humanities provide us with the ideas and critical frameworks to empower people and make a difference.

“Being Human is all about celebrating cutting edge research in the humanities by making direct connections with communities across the UK. Our events bring people together to work on problems, share ideas and, above all, have fun. It’s a very human humanities festival, and I am delighted with this year’s programme.”

Music is a rewarding strand for Being Human and this year’s programme is full of amazing sights and sounds. Several festival events will explore the ways in which music intersects with culture, history, politics and our environment. 

Highlights include: 

  • Sounds From the Gardens (organised by Goldsmiths University of London, 16 and 17 November, 10.30am–5pm) is a weekend of special events led by researchers from Goldsmiths, University of London, exploring the sounds of the Horniman Museum and Gardens in Forest Hill, local ecosystems and our impact on the environment. Expect installations, sound walks, field recording, composition workshops and participatory live performances.  
  • (Beat)Making the North African Cool! (organised by King’s College London, 16 November, 2.306pm). Through the creation of hip-hop beats, this event will invite participants to explore a range of local music traditions including Arab, Amazigh, Andalusi and Gnawa, and the fascinating history and politics of rap music in Morocco. Participants will get hands-on beat-making with Moroccan rapper, Dizzy DROS.  
  • The Secrets of the Fairlight CMI (organised by Edinburgh Napier University, 23 November, 14pm) presents a rare opportunity to find out more about the Fairlight CMI, a ‘digital music centre’ that could cost anywhere up to £100,000 when artists like Afrika Bambaataa, Kate Bush, and Frankie Goes to Hollywood used it in the 1980s. While its Australian designers expected it to be used for imitating the sounds of orchestral instruments its users began, instead, to record the sounds of everyday life. Researcher Paul Harkins, curator Annie Jamieson, and former owner Robin Scott (aka M of 'Pop Muzik' fame) will lead this hands-on workshop in which they talk about its history, role in the sampling 'revolution' and offer the opportunity to sample and play.
  • Space is Full of Sound (organised by the University of Nottingham, 22 November, 8–10.30pm) will explore the hidden sounds of the ‘ether’, the unexpected vibrations of our surroundings and the ‘unbodied’ voices that shape the spaces through which we walk. It includes a discussion about how artists, mystics and scientists have tried to ‘experimentally tune’ into the sounds of the air, the sounds of the past and even the future.  
  • Art, Music and Memory at the Soho Poly (organised by the University of Westminster, 18–21 November). Discover the ‘pre-history’ of London’s iconic venue with a special series of events including a lunchtime gig by folk legend Martin Stephenson, a music and memory zine workshop in and a ‘pop and politics’ exhibition. 

These are just samples of some of the free public events taking place across the UK in locations where communities are most comfortable. They include everything from caves, art galleries, theatres and cinemas to cafes, pubs and museums – and even a castle. The full programme is available now at

Also involved are over 230 cultural and community organisations, from libraries and heritage sites to archives and charities.  

The ‘music’ strand is one of five – the other programme themes include science and technology, history, politics and protest, and nature and environment.  


Notes to Editors

1. Find out more about the festival at and on social media, Twitter at @BeingHumanFest and Instagram @BeingHumanFest.

2. For all enquiries, please contact: Maureen McTaggart, Media and Public Relations OfficerSAS, University of London +44 (0)20 7862 8859 

3. Being Human: the UK’s only national festival of the humanities, 14–23 November 2019. Led by the School of Advanced Study, University of London, in partnership with the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the British Academy, Being Human festival is a national forum for public engagement with humanities research. Established in 2014, the Being Human festival has quickly become a national presence, and since 2017, the festival has also begun to introduce international partnerships – with activities to date taking place in Singapore, Melbourne, Paris, Rome and Princeton. Every year the festival features around 300 events across the country, working with an average of around 80 universities and research organisations in 50 towns and cities each year. The festival highlights the ways in which the humanities can inspire and enrich our everyday lives and aims to increase understanding of the relevance of the humanities to local and international issues. This year’s festival theme is Discoveries & Secrets.

4. The School of Advanced Study (SAS), University of London, is the UK’s national centre for the promotion and support of research in the humanities. SAS and its member institutes offer unparalleled resources, facilities and academic opportunities across a wide range of subject areas for the benefit of the national and international scholarly community. Last year SAS welcomed 892 research fellows and associates, held 1,903 events highlighting the latest research in the humanities, received 25.9 million online visits to its research resources and platforms, and hosted 173,493 visits to its specialist libraries and collections. The School also leads Being Human, the UK’s only nationwide festival of the humanities. Find out more at or follow SAS on Twitter at @SASNews

5. The Arts and Humanities Research Council which is part of UK Research and Innovation, funds world-class, independent researchers in a wide range of subjects: history, archaeology, digital content, philosophy, languages, design, heritage, area studies, the creative and performing arts, and much more. This financial year the AHRC will spend approximately £98 million to fund research and postgraduate training, in collaboration with a number of partners. The quality and range of research supported by this investment of public funds not only provides social and cultural benefits and contributes to the economic success of the UK but also to the culture and welfare of societies around the globe. You can find out more information via or following us on Twitter at @ahrcpress, on Facebook at @artsandhumanitiesresearchcouncil, or Instagram at @ahrcpress.

6. The British Academy is the voice of the humanities and social sciences. The Academy is an independent fellowship of world-leading scholars and researchers; a funding body for research, nationally and internationally; and a forum for debate and engagement. For further information, please contact the British Academy press office on  or 020 7969 5273 / 07500 010 432. Twitter @BritishAcademy_