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Oz Bayldon scales musical peaks for charity

During a visit to Nepal Oz Bayldon decided to use his talents to raise funds for disadvantaged children. He has since opened an orphanage in the Himalayan country, started running music workshops in south London and recently broke a world record by playing a gig atop a 6,654m mountain.
Oz Bayldon, pictured in his London studio, has devoted himself to music and charity. Stephen Lock for The National
Oz Bayldon, pictured in his London studio, has devoted himself to music and charity. Stephen Lock for The National

Oz Bayldon has had a couple of career-defining moments as a musician.

Consider first the raucous night out he enjoyed as a 15-year-old when he sang Dire Straits's Walk of Life and realised, almost for the first time, that he might one day entertain the notion of becoming a singer. Or consider the moment in May 2012 when he performed a gig atop Mera Peak in Nepal and realised he could finally make a difference through music and performance.

The concert, which is recognised as being the highest gig ever to be performed on land (it was staged at 6,654 metres), helped raise £35,000 (Dh206,000) towards Bayldon's philanthropic projects. "Music provided me with a direction in life," the 40-year-old says. "But it didn't provide a purpose."

Bayldon now channels his musical talents to create opportunities for children in developing countries, as well as in south London, where he is based.

The White Lion, a local live music venue in Streatham, is Bayldon's headquarters. It is also home to his Music4Children charity, which he founded in 2006.

In the venue's basement and backyard, children from the area come to enjoy creative classes: DJ lessons, street dance and a live radio session, among others.

The building also houses Urban Jazz Radio, an online station staffed by community members. The station gives youngsters an opportunity to learn the production process.

Doris Emerson is one of the presenters for the jazz and hip-hop station. Emerson, who is also involved with a community project that educates young people on the dangers of gun violence, says radio is one of the best platforms to talk about such issues.

"It makes an impact. I talk about social issues empowering young people," she says of her show Say Your Beat.

The online radio station is a part of Bayldon's Groove School project, which runs DJ and music technology workshops.

Rock School is another way that Bayldon connects young music enthusiasts in the local community. The project now has 50 students, aged between eight and 20, learning various aspects of music, from live sound engineering to performing as a band. Clarry McDonald, a Streatham local who also volunteers his time as a chairman for Music4Children, says that Bayldon's effort has helped to create a better environment for children in the area who are interested in music.

"It's making some positive changes for children," says McDonald, who works full-time at Lambeth Council, the borough that includes Streatham. "It's giving them something else to do."

While Bayldon's mission is to connect children in his local community through music, he also uses his artistry to help children in the developing world.

In 2002, during the musician's first visit to Nepal, he was struck by images of starving children in the squatter community of Kathmandu. He spent about £35 to buy them lunch and remembers this as a "breakthrough moment" that changed the course of his life.

After returning to London, he played gigs at various venues to raise funds for children in Nepal but the money he raised made little or no impact.

"I made £100 and lost £200," he says. "We were doing the usual fundraising but the money we were raising wasn't going to change anyone's life."

That's when Bayldon thought of doing something that would help his initiative get recognised and help raise more funds.

While most philanthropic musicians focus on composing music to help people in developing nations, Bayldon decided to take a unique approach to attracting attention to the causes he supports.

So, in 2005, he travelled to Nepal to set a record. He performed at 5,545 metres in Kala Patthar on the way to Everest Base Camp. Upon his return, Bayldon put on a 44-hour non-stop performance at a nightclub in London's Soho area.

Earlier this year he also did the unthinkable: Bayldon and his team trekked to Mera Peak, in the Himalayas, and performed in sub-zero temperatures.

"It was my record and I had to regain it," says Bayldon, who had lost the title to a German group who played at 6,069 metres on Bolivia's Mount Acotango.

"It was a killer," he says of the excruciating climb up the mountain and the 40-minute performance. "Around halfway through the first song, my hands were numb," he recalls, "and my singing was out of key."

But Bayldon and his band members accomplished their mission on Mera Peak. They finished the five songs lined up for the gig, including Being Around by The Lemonheads and the 1967 hit Ain't No Mountain High Enough by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell.

"It was probably the worst performance of my life, yet it was also the best," says Bayldon, whose charity lists a number of high-profile patrons, including Sting and Elle Macpherson.

The money raised through the concert has since been used to open an orphanage in Nepal that will house and educate street children.

This year, Bayldon's project is expanding to South America.

Music4Children's South American initiative, Rumble in the Jungle, is a 28-day musical tour through the Amazon.

Bayldon says it will be a musical fusion between 10 artists from developing countries. The recordings, he says, will be an artistic collaboration and a cultural exchange.

"I find music therapeutic ... it crosses boundaries," he says. "Music connects people. It helps people smile and integrate."

Bibek Bhandari is a freelance journalist based in London.

Updated: September 15, 2012 04:00 AM