Glasgow grandmothers learn to rap with Karen Dunbar for the BBC programme

Suzanne’s grief over the loss of her husband still surprises her, but she is willing to try any adventure; And best friends Betty and Wilma laugh and cry together as they remember those they’ve loved and lost.

Glasgow Times: Betty, Wilma, Jan, Maggie and SusanBetty, Wilma, Jan, Maggie, and Susan (Image: BBC)

It’s this awesome Possilpark grans’ mission to write and perform their first-ever rap, with a little help from comedian, actress, and singer Karen Dunbar.

Their journey, from nervous beginnings to fully performing in front of the local community, is captured in a TV documentary that will melt even the kindest of hearts.

“This isn’t a documentary about teaching a bunch of old women how to rap,” Karen says firmly.

Glasgow Times: Karen DunbarKaren Dunbar (Image: BBC)

“This is a story about community, friendship, and family, and how rap, poetry, and the spoken word can empower people to tell their stories—no matter who they are or where they come from.”

Karen explains that the idea arose from the Closing Project.

“I was just sitting there, watching a year of live work completely disappear,” she says. “Everything has been cancelled. And for me, lockdown wasn’t about making banana bread or learning Spanish, and I could barely make ends meet to do my laundry.

“I desperately needed to do something for my sanity.”

A friend suggested Karen work with her at a rap workshop she had arranged with a group of refugees.

“I love music and I love talking, so this was perfect,” she says. “It grew from there—now we run rap workshops for about 30 different groups, all ages, all backgrounds—I love it.”

I stopped. “This though was so emotional and inspiring. You could see in my face on the show how much I loved it. To hear them speak with so much honesty, that rawness — it’s dead special.”

“This will stay with me forever.”

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During a few workshops in the offices of NG Homes on Saracen Street, the five women put their raw nerves aside to create a rap full of F-words (like family, friendship, faith. Nothing too unpleasant).

Supported by Karen and Amy Rio, from Glasgow Girls’ Club, the women share their own stories of life, love and loss.

Glasgow Times: Karen Dunbar, left, and Amy RioKaren Dunbar, left, and Amy Rio (Image: BBC)

We learn that Maggie, who has five grandchildren and one great-grandchild, is gradually rebuilding her confidence after the lockdown knocked her six grandchildren down.

“That’s why it was so good to do it with Karen and Amy,” she says.

Four years ago, Betty experienced complications after surgery.

“I needed intensive care and another surgery, and it didn’t go well,” she says. “I didn’t go out for a year. I don’t know why I went to church, but I did, and there I met Wilma, Mary, and Irene. We had so much fun together.”

Irene was Wilma’s sister.

“She died of cancer, and a year later, Mary also died of cancer,” says Wilma. “It’s been a tough year.”

Every Monday morning, Wilma and Betty visit Moosesfield Memorial Park to “be with the girls”.

Wilma smiles: “Rain, hail, snow, we always come. That’s what keeps us going.”

Gene makes the tablet for the Courtyard Pantry next door to sell to raise money for Stobhill Hospital. She proudly says that the last payment brought in £2,109.

“I enjoy giving,” she says. “So many people have helped me over the years, so it’s time to pay back.”

Recently, Jean was diagnosed with emphysema.

“It affects your lungs, your breathing — and impairs your strength,” she says. “I knew when I was diagnosed with a progressive disease, it wasn’t going to get better. But I still tested positive.

“I make the most of each day as it comes. I just love life. Whatever is thrown at me I will deal with.”

Suzanne has lived in North Glasgow for over 70 years. Unfortunately, her husband, Michael, passed away 10 years ago from stomach cancer.

“He was such a caring and giving person,” says Susan. I miss him so much. I keep going like, ‘Oh you’ll never guess…’.

She says that participating in rap workshops was a godsend.

“It’s nice to feel you belong — social connection is essential,” she nods. “I haven’t laughed so much in a long time. It’s an adventure. There are peaks and troughs but you just have to think ‘Uh, I can do this.’”

Karen Dunbar’s School of Rap broadcasts on BBC Scotland on Thursday, March 23 at 10pm.

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