The Exchange Twickenham: Artist in Residence debuts new show

On 30th June, Janette Mason, Artist in Residence at The Exchange in Twickenham was joined by Vimala Rowe and Juliet Roberts for a one-night-only performance of their brand new project AYRA. 

The show featured songs spanning the genres of jazz, dance, pop, and soul and the trio was backed by an eclectic mix of talented performers, including support from R&B singer-songwriter and ex-student of Janette’s Haydn Barode.

Each of the three, who met during Janette’s residency at the Hideaway, brings her own unique flavor to the mix, drawing on a range of influences.

Janette has a background in the jazz and pop world, Juliet has sung on hundreds of dance hits, and Vimala draws on her eclectic singing experience–from jazz singing to Hindustani.  

Janette said of working with the pair: “It’s very much a collaborative process. They’re friends of mine as well as colleagues so we do share our experiences of life.

“And that will often inspire an idea for a song. Then we literally just go and sit at the piano and just see what happens–it’s quite magical.”

The collaboration was particularly meaningful for Rowe.

She said: “I used to listen to Juliette as a teenager. My brother bought me her music. And I really felt her in my heart.

“Isn’t that incredible that now I get to hang out with her and make music?”

Janette is very much at home as a composer and live performer as she is an arranger,  producer, and teacher.

She has 35 years of experience in the music industry, from touring the world as a session musician alongside the likes of bands from Oasis and Seal to working as the musical director on the Jonathan Ross show.

Having trained in Jazz Theory and Performance at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, she is a highly proficient jazz musician. 

The Exchange welcomed her for her first-ever full set of original music at the theatre following a run of popular cover shows, including Dusty In Words And Music, For The Love of Ella, and Wall To Wall George Michael. 

Janette recently did two sell-out nights of her Bowie show at Ronnie Scott’s.

Despite these having a strong following, she reflected: “I thought I need to get my own voice out there again. That was one of the driving forces for all three of us.”

Building back after the pandemic

The musician became known for her cover performances while working for 10 years at the Hideaway in Stretton, which sadly closed down over lockdown.

Becky Shaw, Programme & Partnerships Manager at The Exchange explained that the pandemic also created pressures closer to home, resulting in the loss of a significant proportion of The Exchange’s audience.

In addition, the cost of living crisis has meant people have been reluctant to take a risk on buying tickets for shows they may not enjoy. 

Shaw said: “It’s just been a matter of gaining the audience’s trust, and one of the ways of doing that was to get Janette to become an artist in residence so she could establish a strong relationship with the community.”

Championing diversity in music

Shaw also reflected on the importance of championing diversity at the theatre.

She said: “Giving a platform to women is something that I want to do as much as I can. 

“Seeing Janette, working with these women in this project has really been exciting. They’ve had incredible careers in the industry, often in quite patriarchal environments, but they’ve come back stronger and more creative than ever.”

The project started pre-lockdown and was put on hold during the pandemic.

The trio have worked together in various different guises over the years but decided to begin the project out of a desire to create something centred on women’s experiences. 

This common thread uniting the three musicians also inspired the name of the show, AYRA, meaning spiritual warrior, which highlights that each of these women is a warrior of the music world in her own right.

Featured image by Charlotte Baladi

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