Tony Cummings has an unexpected encounter with critically acclaimed songstress VANESSA FORERO
The audience in the small folk/acoustic concert held each month in a coffee shop in a Leeds park look stunned. On stage is a singer/songwriter with a national, even an international, reputation and her appearance is unexpected and unannounced. A few days previously indie folk artist Vanessa Forero had flown in from Colombia to visit her mother and talked her way into this gig.
The British/Colombian singer/guitarist has been a professional musician since 2004. Vanessa will be well-known to long-in-the-tooth Cross Rhythms listeners. Three songs, "Raven", "Same Boat" and "Heaven Knows" from her 2016 classic 'From The Uproar' EP, made it to the CR playlist and later she was a member of the Life Church worship team. She has played in venues as diverse as rowdy Colombian bars and on stage at Abbey Road Studio 1. Vanessa has won Hollywood best film score awards working with the Liverpool Philharmonic. She has worked on stage with Beth Orton and her songs and performances have been broadcast on more TV channels than GoCompare have had telly ads. And she has a house halfway up a "sacred mountain" in Colombia where she records and releases singles in her fully equipped recording studio.
But now she is on the cusp of a new musical adventure. She has bought a camper van and with a friend is going to travel across the USA, playing concerts wherever she can. Before the Leeds concert Vanessa told me, "I love the skin drums. When I'm on my own it's the rawest version of a song. When I'm in the camper van around the States I'll have my friend Jojo, who isn't even a musician - but I do this to my friends; I tell them what to do and they become a musician as we go. So that's going to happen to my friend Jojo as we go around the States. She's going to play a bombo, like a skin drum and shakers."
Vanessa is an extraordinarily prolific songwriter. "I've entered a challenge with some friends, that every single week we write a new song and we have to stay to this commitment for a whole year. We're halfway through it now and it's really tough because you don't get a whole week to write a song because the week is full of work. You basically only get a few hours. All the songs I'm going to do tonight are from this challenge and they're all very in the moment."
When Vanessa was married she lived in Bradford, Yorkshire and attended a large Pentecostal-style church and was a member of the church's team of musicians. She now rejects a born-again Christian label but still reveres the person of Jesus. "I think Jesus Christ is an absolute light being, an incredible person to follow. I do feel he got warped a lot in the church. When they put him on a shrine with smoke and big hair and Hollywood, I don't think that's Jesus. I think Jesus is someone that comes alongside you. I think Jesus would laugh at the things some churches seem to communicate. He said not to make him an idol. I do find that some evangelical churches sing what my friend used to call Jesus-is-my-boyfriend songs. I think Jesus is a person who has come alongside me - at the same height even, rather than me always viewing him up here and I'm the little girl. That viewpoint kept me little and it kept me small. Now I feel backed up. I don't always hear from the Lord and it's fine because I still feel the presence of his light and being. I like that because it makes me think for myself."
I asked Vanessa about her book The Girl With No Name. Was it still in print? "Yes, it is. I wrote my mum's story in 2013 and it's still going around. It was a really nice surprise to us that it became a Sunday Times bestseller and then the Wall Street Journal bestseller and it got translated 18 times. There are different versions of it with different covers."
The whole world of music has changed hugely since Vanessa first began recording. She is not particularly enthusiastic about streaming. "There's a lot of work you have to put in once you've recorded something worth releasing, like getting it on the play lists and there's these things you can pay for. I'm not so good at that, to be honest. I guess I do it organically and I'll share songs with whoever is around. It's a new music industry that's around us now."
I finished our short chat by asking about "Railway Boys", a song she was set to sing that night. "When I came back to Bradford a few days ago I wrote a song about the northern railways. I'd like to record that soon for sure. At the moment, because of the song writing challenge, we just record everything on demos on our phones. I'm going to try them all out live, which is a little test tonight. If they sit well, I think I'll take them into the studio and give it the next bit of treatment."The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.