Marie Naffah is a young, talented singer and songwriter from London. When she was 18, she wrote “Blindfold”, a song inspired by her grandmother’s experience with macular degeneration. Marie used to play the song at the end of her shows in London, cross-legged on the floor with a blindfold tied around her eyes.
Last year, Marie teamed up with a group of six blind and visually impaired musicians to record ‘Blindfold’. Their cooperation opened her eyes … The result is a beautiful performance of her song and a documentary, an amazing project that challenges perceptions about disability and creativity, talent and barriers.
Time For Equality has asked Marie to share this story with us.
The Blindfold Project
I am a musician, a songwriter. I am not a journalist – I can barely keep a blog. I am also not a public speaker, though recently I was privileged enough to be invited to give a Tedx Talk (Tedx Courtauld Institute) on how I believe that ‘Disability does not obstruct creativity’. I spoke about #Blindfold, my recent collaboration with six visually impaired musicians and filmmaker Constance Meath-Baker. #Blindfold is a 12-minute documentary that combines interviews with these musicians and an ensemble performance of a track I wrote, by the same name.
I wrote the song as a response to my grandmother’s experience with Macular Degeneration (AMD) and the implications it had on her life and the lives around her. My grandmother can only see a vague silhouette, yet she’ll always look me in the eye and tell me that I look nice. I used to play the song at the end of my shows in London; cross-legged on the floor with a blindfold tied around my eyes. It was definitely an unconventional approach (and a sound engineer’s worst nightmare), but it got people looking, and listening – and, most importantly, thinking about sight loss.
Working with these six musicians, however, taught me much more about blindness than tying a scarf around my eyes could ever do (go figure!). As a fully sighted person, I cannot see what it is like to be blind. What I can see, and have seen, is the social stigma that still surrounds the lives of people with visual impairments.
I used to think that in the UK, we were merely victims of British awkwardness when interacting with people who are visually impaired. When we meet blind people, we don’t look them properly in the eye, we tread on eggshells and speak in an uncomfortable, patronising tone. Rather than being of any practical help, we just get in their way.
Embarrassingly, I can admit that I used to be one of those people. I wanted to help, but I didn’t know how. I felt hopeless and awkward and this was not due to anything other than ignorance. I had no friends who were blind so I didn’t know. And I know that there are many people who are as unaware as I was, through no fault on their own. That is why I feel the need to share my experience, and to show just how obviously talented these musicians are.
They are not talented because they are blind, nor are they necessarily talented in spite of being blind. They are simply some of the most talented musicians I have ever performed with.
I now have visually impaired friends. And not only are they marvellous, but they have taught me a thing or two about the challenges a blind person can face and more importantly, they showed me that their disability does not limit them in being creative or successful.
What actually shocked me the most was that the challenges they faced were more than just people being patronising. I shared a story in my TEDx Talk about a friend of mine who used to work in his local recording studio. The studio had been handed over to a new owner who chose to cut my friend’s hours for the reason that they ‘didn’t want to deal with the whole blind thing’.
Reading this I am sure that you are as shocked (and probably surprised) as I was – that is unless you are amongst the many blind musicians who have had to face such disgusting discrimination.
Again, perhaps this person will say like I did, that they too had no friends who were blind so they too didn’t know. Somehow now this excuse seems weak, doesn’t it?
That is why I leave the documentary here – to show you the perspectives of some blind musicians and make people a little more aware of the blind people within our community. Listen to their stories, hear their voices, and don’t write them off because it’s too much hassle.
Marie Naffah is a 23-year-old singer/songwriter from London. Last year, Marie teamed up with a group of six blind and visually impaired musicians in order to record her track ‘Blindfold’ which formed part of a short documentary that seeks to raise awareness and understanding of the issues surrounding visual impairment and sight loss. She is currently working on her debut release and was named MTV’s Unsigned Artist of 2014.
The musicians working with Marie Naffah at the Project Blindfold are: Ashley Cox, Antonio De Lillis, Rob Ellard, Steve Plowmann, and Kevin Satizabal.