Belinda Braggins: musician, piano teacher, composer, performer.
Belinda didn’t grow up focusing on music, in fact, she only considered herself vaguely musical thanks to a few childhood piano lessons. But as a disillusioned, high-achieving Oxford graduate, she rebelled from the academic expectations and pretension (Boris Johnson was her peer) and turned to music. Moving into a Brixton squat, she took up the saxophone through Greater London Council’s free music provisions – which in the 80s, under Mayor Ken Livingstone favoured big expenditure on the arts – and entered London’s jazz scene. Most people find picking up an instrument past childhood daunting, but Belinda possesses that wicked intelligence thats makes complex things seem easy. Those early, disciplined experiences with the piano triggered an “instinctive yearning to improvise” and she learned to play the saxophone intuitively by ear. After stints in bands, found her own identity as a solo performer.
But in the 90s, she started having problems with her jaw: “It was diagnosed as focal dystonia, a form of repetitive strain industry, but I think it also was a result of years of academic pressure, competition and stuck in the analytical-left, rather than creative-right, side of my brain. I hadn’t approached music properly”. The jaw tension stopped her from playing the saxophone, which as her form of self-expression, was extremely destabilising. However, breaking the mould yet again, Belinda reclaimed the piano, mastering another instrument. Now, the piano is what she dedicates her time to: practising self-written material and performing, often around Camberwell, with her good friend Winston on bass.
What brought you here?
Belinda was born and raised in London, but in 2014, after caring and mourning her mother, she came to Camberwell to celebrate a friend’s birthday. They went to The Tiger, where music played, people danced, and familiarity reigned. Despite her loss, it became a celebration of life and community. “This is where I need to be”.
What can you tell people about Camberwell?
“Whilst it’s gentrifying, it hasn’t yet divided or taken over: there’re still places that have been here forever and surviving. It makes it feel uniquely genuine and authentic.” The arty, trendiness of it feels indigenous; it’s not been grafted on.