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“Whether that’s performing poetry on a roller coaster, questioning what places poetry can exist in or mixing poetry with beatbox—I just want to show people that poetry doesn’t have to be just one thing. I want to unlock the box and take the lid off of what we think poetry can be,”

Says Jasmine Gardosi during our lively conversation spanning topics from poetry to Birmingham’s open mic nights to Celtic dubstep. It is only fitting then that as we have this call, tucked away in one of Symphony Hall’s corridors, echoes of a band rehearsing in the Jennifer Blackwell Performance Space below us would often slip in between her words.

Jasmine recently became the Birmingham Poet Laureate, taking up the baton from Casey Bailey. “It feels surreal but also exactly the same as before it was announced in October. Mostly because I’ve been doing a lot of the things that I’ve been wanting to do in Birmingham for a while now and becoming the Birmingham Poet Laureate doesn’t mean that I stop doing those things. It means I keep doing them and try to do them even better.”

Jasmine Gardosi (right) alongside Young Poet Laureate Iona Mandal (left)

Credit: Lee Allen

Jasmine’s love for poetry rivals her love for the city of Birmingham. “[I want to] give the parts of Birmingham that I love a voice; whether that’s the LGBTQ community, the music community, the poetry community—I want to shout out those communities because they’re doing incredible things.”

One of the things that really stands out is Jasmine’s desire for authenticity, for honesty. “I just want to be myself,” she says. “Sometimes we feel like we have to be a particular person or persona if we’re holding a position like the Birmingham Poet Laureate. But to be honest–myself is enough, you know? I am odd, awkward, introverted, quirky,” Jasmine chuckles at this admission. “But sometimes that’s exactly what someone needs to see leading the way. And all of those things come out in my poetry a lot of the time. People just need to believe that their voices are enough, [that their voices] are exciting, quirky, awkward and therefore, awesome, and that they have things to say.”

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What makes you different is what can help you make a difference. And poetry is an amazing tool for that. Those are the things I want to keep broadcasting and championing as Birmingham Poet Laureate.”

Jasmine is set to take over the Jennifer Blackwell Performance Space on Tue 24 Jan with Dancing to Music You Hate. “It blends poetry with beatbox and Celtic dubstep. I wouldn’t call it a play. I wouldn’t even call it just a gig either. It is—I don’t know what it is,” Jasmine laughs. “But what it is is definitely an experience.”

Joining her are Alternative Dubstep Orchestra’s DJ C@ in the H@, trumpeter/techno artist Sam Wooster, Ire-Ish’s multi-instrumentalist Jobe Baker-Sullivan and drummer Noemi La Barbera. The show also features BBC Young Jazz Musician 2018 saxophonist Xhosa Cole.

“Throughout the hour I perform with the musicians, I interact with the musicians. They interact with me. They argue with me. Sometimes they interrupt me. Sometimes we’re at war. Because whilst the show is said to be about gender identity and all that stuff… it’s really a show about self-expression.”

One of the fascinating things with Jasmine’s work is their experimentation with music and poetry and this is where you find out how much influence Birmingham’s open mic nights and music scene has in her work.

“I’ve always had a rhythm to my poetry. But things really got serious when I was invited to a show called Funkenteleky—it’s an amazing open mic night that was run by Jack Crowe at The Edge in Digbeth. They had a group of Jazz musicians who improvised with poets. That’s the first time I’ve really performed with music and it kicked my brain out of the funk that I was in at the time. It gave me a shot of energy and adrenaline which still lasts to this day. The feeling of performing with musicians—it woke something up inside of me. That was back in… 2017? About five years ago now and ever since then I’ve been curious, I’ve been hungry to perform more.” Jasmine adds: “I need to pay homage to those kinds of nights, those open mic nights, because they’re the ones who really inspired my love and my interest for music.”

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I felt very tiny and small in this big space. and growing up now I still feel tiny and small in this gigantically respected pair of buildings and it feels surreal to be standing on the Symphony Hall stage as I did during lockdown and again as part of Beyond the Bricks of Brum.”

Jasmine is no stranger to Town Hall and Symphony Hall. During the 2020 lockdown, back when B:Music was still called THSH, Jasmine joined fellow poets Casey Bailey, Jess Davies and ThinkWriteFly for an exclusive performance on the Symphony Hall stage.

But Jasmine’s relationship with the two venues goes way back. Her first introduction to music fusions started when she was young–attending events at Town Hall and Symphony Hall.

“My Dad would take me to Symphony Hall when I was younger. He’s a big lover of world fusion music so we watched a lot of stuff from all sorts of places that I wouldn’t have seen if they didn’t come to Symphony Hall.” Jasmine recalls these memories with fondness. “L. Shankar–saw him in the main auditorium when I was probably less than ten, I think. And I saw Afro Celt Sound System in Town Hall. Those were big influences for me and Afro Celt System—it’s in the name, it blends two different types of music together.”

This fascination with connection and experimentation makes it no surprise that her upcoming show, Dancing to Music You Hate, eludes definition and introduces us to what Jasmine calls Celtic dubstep. “I’ve always been interested in dubstep and the basslines of dubstep and so I wanted–'' Jasmine makes a swooping motion with her hand like a bird in flight. “—this amazing folk violin to kind of soar over the bassline.”

It’s almost fate, then, that we saw Jasmine perform on the very stage that played a big part in inspiring her early interests in a variety of musical genres. On June 17 2022, under the baton of Principal Guest Conductor, Dalia Stasevska, and featuring arrangements and orchestrations by Jules Buckley, the BBC Symphony Orchestra played brand new arrangements and compositions alongside Black Voices, Casey Bailey and Sanity at Symphony Hall. Featuring over 100 musicians, this celebration of Birmingham’s music and spoken word scene was called Beyond the Bricks of Brum.

Jasmine’s excitement recalling their time as part of Beyond the Bricks of Brum is palpable even through the screen. “It’s kind of amazing!” she grins. “Because I went [to these venues] when I was so tiny. To these BIG buildings. I came to Birmingham when I was seven. And going to Symphony Hall and Town Hall for music–it was one of the first things I ever did, the first kind of cultural experience I ever had. I was moving to a new place and it was kind of amazing to hear that Symphony Hall has one of the best sound auditoriums in Europe.”

“It was honestly an absolute fanciful dream–because you see artists sometimes performing with an orchestra. You see that on Youtube, you see that on BBC Proms and you’re like: ‘Mate, one day, wouldn’t that be amazing?’

“It’s the most fanciful and secretive little dream and you never think of what will happen–but it did happen and it’s thanks to Chris Proctor (B:Music’s Head of Programming) and to Casey Bailey who recommended me for the project.”

“And to see people that I’ve seen performing from like 2014. Truemendous, for example, upstairs at the coffee shop–Poetry Jam–that’s where I first saw her. [And now at Beyond the Bricks of Brum] performing with this gigantic orchestra and rapping–it’s just–that was amazing. All of these legends and heroes of Birmingham and the West Midlands. It was surreal. And to be able to perform with the orchestra myself…” Jasmine trails off here, glowing with the memory.

Jasmine sees B:Music’s drive to inspire a love of live music, and support the next generation of creative people. “What’s exciting is that B:Music is supporting local artists. It feels like they understand and recognise the absolute wealth of creativity that we’ve got in this city. And the fact that they are open to looking at poetry and celebrate poetry–that to me seems like they’re open and fluid in their genre binaries as I am about poetry and that’s actually quite a nice marriage.”

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To be in this quite breathtaking space–no music needs to be happening in that space for you to walk in and feel like your breath has been taken away because of the size of it, because of the design of it. It’s just awe-inspiring.”

It’s only up and up for Birmingham’s Poet Laureate. “I want to take Dancing to Music You Hate on tour. The world is a scary place as a gender queer, trans or non-binary person right now. I really love the message of the show; that you are amazing, whoever you are. You’re valid, completely, as yourself. And I really want to continue that message–out of Birmingham and out of the West Midlands.”

So, before Dancing to Music You Hate completely takes the national stages by storm, make sure to catch Jasmine’s performance of poetry, beatbox and Celtic dubstep alongside some of Birmingham’s finest musicians at the Jennifer Blackwell Performance Space on Tue 24 Jan.

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They’re kinda cool and open and fluid and I’m kinda cool and open and fluid about all sorts of things but specifically poetry… it’s coming together in this cool way.”

Interview by Lerah Barcenilla, Marketing & Communications Officer, B:Music

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