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‘A pill is not always the answer’

Musician Calista Kazuko explains the story behind Voice of Aiko, a collective of musicians, filmmakers and artists who are campaigning against addiction to prescription drugs

20 September, 2018 — By Jane Clinton

Voice of Aiko are holding a special event to launch their collective and celebrate the release of their first project Prescription Dream on September 29.

The trauma of watching the effects of prescription drugs on a loved one spurred musician and singer songwriter, Calista Kazuko, to raise awareness about the potentially devastating damage they can wreak.

“I had no idea of the scale of it when I started looking into it,” she says. “When you start talking to people you realise everyone has got a story of someone they know or they themselves have been affected.”

The figures are shocking: 1.5million people in England have benzo-drug dependency. “And that is just the benzos and doesn’t even include antidepressants,” says Calista.

Benzodiazepines, or “benzos” as they are often referred to, are the most widely prescribed drugs in the world. They are prescribed for conditions such as anxiety, sleep, stress, pain and muscle relaxation. They are, however, often prescribed for longer than the recommended time. It is this approach to doling out drugs which saw the creation of Voice of Aiko (pronounced “I-co”).

Voice of Aiko is a collective of musicians, filmmakers, dancers and visual artists who “campaign for change through beautiful art”. This is their first campaign.


Calista Kazuko. Photo: Ester Keate

The name “Aiko” is a nod to Calista’s Japanese mother’s side of the family. “There are loads of Aikos in the family including my great aunt who is in her late 90s and she is amazing and it is dedicated to her,” she says. “Also Aiko translates as “child of love”.

An event to mark the launch of Voice of Aiko will take place on September 29 in East London and will include a discussion, music, a specially commissioned dance from Adrian Del Arroyo and the CA Contemporary Dance Company, performances from Sera EKE, Bumi Thomas and a DJ set.

Fifty per cent of the proceeds from the evening with be shared with the charities: REST (Recovery Experience Sleeping Tablets and Tranquilisers) which is a service run by MIND in Camden and APRIL (Adverse Psychiatric Reactions Information Link), a charity that promotes awareness of medicines than can harm mental health.

Calista is also launching her new single, Prescription Dream, on the Friday before the launch. (Her album Empress will be out in Spring 2019 and she is writing her first musical with playwright Stephanie Martin).

The accompanying video for the song, shot by filmmaker Enya Belak Gupta, shines the spotlight on the ongoing prescription drug epidemic. Using sweets and neon colours it’s not hard to infer the message: that they are as prevalent as sweets.

Voice of Aiko have been working closely with MIND in Camden’s REST service and APRIL to try to open up the debate on prescription drugs.

“A pill is not always the answer,” says Calista. “There may be an alternative. “Also, there is the need to recognise that just because the doctor gave them to you, they could still harm you and have serious side effects. And there should be no cold turkey. So no suddenly stop taking medication. Even in low doses people should seek advice before stopping.

“It is also really important that people are aware that some things they are experiencing could be down to the prescription drugs they are taking. Sadly all too often yet another drug is then prescribed to counteract those symptoms.”

Calista, who lives in Camden with her husband, studied piano at the Royal Academy of Music and plays violin. She comes from a family who have used music to heal and inform. Her late father, Paul Robertson, was a celebrated violinist who founded the Medici Quartet.

He and his wife and Calista’s mother, Chika, also a respected violinist, set up the charity, the Music, Mind, Spirit Trust, which researches and explores the neurological, scientific and ethical basis of music, to understand its underlying effect on behaviours.

Chika, who teaches at the Royal Academy of Music, is working on several projects including a project looking at Alzheimer’s and music.

Voice of Aiko has already had a music workshop of samba drumming and songwriting with Let’s All Create for service users of REST and MIND at MIND in Camden’s Phoenix premises and plans more.

“It was quite something,” she says of the event. “Just seeing everyone totally immersed in the drumming and music. A chance to focus on something else rather than our problems. We were all there together creating. It was beautiful.”

• Voice of Aiko presents Prescription Dream is on September 29 at Leman Locke, 15 Leman Street, E1 8EN. See https://tinyurl.com/y7udoyr5

• For details from the MIND in Camden’s REST and APRIL see www.mindincamden.org.uk/resources/articles/minor-tranx

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