Maryam Ghaffari started her Got Soul Choir in Edinburgh with just eight people. Six years on, her determination and passion for soul music has been the driving force behind Scotland’s number one soul choir. Got Soul now has over four hundred members, with popular choirs in Glasgow, Dundee and Dunfermline. Ahead of a new term kicking off in September the charity has announced plans to spread the soul vibe across Scotland. Maryam said, “Next stop for the soul train is Falkirk!”
When Maryam set up Got Soul in 2012 she was between jobs and her marraige was in crisis. She had recovered from years of illness after an onset of acute ulcerative colitis and was feeling low. But she saw a chance to set up a charity that would bring people together and out of loneliness. After a period of soul-searching the idea of Got Soul was born.
“I was feeling lonely and I thought, it can’t just be me. I wanted to connect others through a shared passion and purpose. There was nothing like it in Edinburgh at the time. I can’t believe how much Got Soul has grown and what we have achieved.”
A trained nurse, psychotherapist and singer, Maryam has sang in choirs since the age of three. She was always driven by helping others but it wasn’t until she formed Got Soul that she finally found her calling. “I don’t have children and knew I wanted to leave a legacy. Singing is so powerful. It carries you through and in a group people become friends, your support network.
“Being in a choir helps people bond, feel connected and part of a meaningful community. And singing soul is just so uplifting. It’s well documented now too that singing is beneficial for the health, it’s more than fun and self-expression, it gets the lungs and heart working! For me, singing soul is like a light switch. You flick it and instantly the light comes on.”
Got Soul has come a long way since eight people met in a rehearsal in a small room in a convent in Edinburgh in 2012.
The choir has performed along mega soul artists Basement Jaxx’s Sharlene Hector and two time MOBO winner Kelly Le Roc. In 2016 300 members of the Got Soul choirs sang to a sold-out Usher Hall gig with Mica Paris and a 14-piece band. The choir also appeared on BBC TV’s The Choir and toured with Gareth Malone. Got Soul plans to set up a choir leader training programme in communities and hopes to deliver workshops in schools and prisons.
For Maryam the most memorable moments are about community, the life and soul of the choirs. “The spirit of community in Got Soul choirs is incredible. We sang at Edinburgh’s Hogmanay this year and had 100 singing on 3 different stages, with the crowd singing along. You can’t write these moments. They are extraordinary.”