Nicki Allan

Nicki is a vocal Tutor in Popular Music. She considers herself a second generation migrant, with parents who migrated from Russia and Northern Ireland.

She shared with us how migration has affected her life and work…

What does the word ‘migrant’ mean to you? ​

I am a second-generation migrant I suppose, both my father and mother are migrants. Dad, Dimitri, was Russian and Mum, Sadie, was from Northern Ireland.

Where were you born, and what caused you to move away from your birth country?

I consider myself British as I was born here, in St James’ Hospital, Leeds.

How have your personal experiences of migration impacted on you as a musician and artist?

My father’s life was very tragic and he suffered a lot from the effects of World War II. He was from a small industrial town in Russia called Lyudinovo. When war broke out, his father went to off war and never returned. Dad was only 16 at the time and had to stay behind while the German army occupied their village. Dad was taken to Germany at 19 to work as a ‘volunteer’ or the ‘wilmacht’ as they were called; though really, he was a German prisoner, beaten and starved and didn’t see his family again for 60 years. Thankfully, at the end of the war, the American army granted visas to all the remaining prisoners of war and that is how Dad ended up in England. His migration saved his life. Being sent back to Russia would have meant instant death by firing squad. A terrible choice for a 21 year old: stay and be killed or never see your family again. He really believed that his family were dead, so he began a new life in England.

Mum’s story is a little different. Coming from a staunch catholic family and country, she became pregnant at 19 and the baby was brought up by her grandmother to save shame on the rest of the family for having a child outside of wedlock. Mum ran away to England two years later so she could raise the baby away from prejudice. My uncle, Mum’s younger brother, became a Catholic priest, and he never knew about the child. She met my dad when her son (my older brother) was 13. Sadly, he died in a road accident when I was just a baby so I never knew him. His name was Dirk. My sister and I have pieced together our heritage since Mum and Dad passed away. We were never allowed to talk about it while mum was alive. Mum said it upset Dad.

10 years ago, a Russian friend of mine moved to Garforth and they helped to track down some of Dad’s living family by placing an Ad in the Lyudinovo news in Russia. To our delight and surprise, his sister saw the ad and got in touch and she came to visit him here in England. It was beautiful to see them reunited. I now have Russian cousins and nieces and nephews that I never knew I had, although I haven’t been over to meet them yet. It was a wonderful happy ending of sorts for Dad to reunite with his family after all those missing years.

We had a whole foreign ‘family’ growing up. I never knew my real relatives, only a cousin and an uncle on my mum’s side who we hardly ever saw. My family were all migrants and we were all the same, it was normal to hang out with multicultural people at birthdays, weddings and anniversaries. I didn’t feel any different when I was with them. At school I was teased a lot for my surname. I hated the fact that it was so different from all the other kids and longed for a simple surname, like Smith or Jones! That was the only time I ever experienced any kind of bullying and being picked on and singled out. I hated it, and wanted to hide because my name made me stand out. I was very shy and couldn’t stand up for myself so I ran away from school a number of times. Every time the register was called someone would laugh or comment.

As I’ve grown up I realise that my surname is part of who I am and that I am from a different background despite feeling very English and patriotic in most other ways. I embrace culture and diversity and feel a great empathy towards others from distant shores. Being from a migrant background also means I have a rich history from both sides and I am proud of that history. It IS different and I’m glad I am who I am now.

As an artist, I have been influenced by many musical cultures and experiences but particularly from the music of my roots. Everything from Irish jigs and reels and Celtic modes to the music of Borodin, Stravinsky and Mussorgsky rank highly on my influences. It doesn’t always show in my jazz work but someday I would like to write some kind of fusion music between Irish and Russian folk, perhaps…

Where did the RNCM come into your story?

I began working at the RNCM nine years ago. I was working in Leeds at the time when the job came up, I applied and am very happy to still be here. I hope for many more years.

Where is home to you?

Home to me now that my parents are gone is with my husband and children in our home in Leeds. This house feels like home. Home is the people around you who love you and you love them. Your immediate family and children and wherever you are all together, that is Home.

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