Sarah discovers the sights and sounds of the city, on Opera North’s musical journey, composed by cellist Abel Selaocoe, for Leeds 2023 Year of Culture.

Too many of us trudge through town, our heads buried in scarves, smartphones and sausage rolls, like blinkered racehorses at the shopping Grand National. It’s rare to see someone actually look up for a while, pause, and take in their surroundings. 

Leeds is blessed with some fascinating architecture: a diverse mix of traditions and inspirations, from the Gothic to the Brutalist; Moorish to the Medieval. Stop to notice for a moment, and details will delight and surprise on every corner. Friar Tuck striking the bell of the Ivanhoe Clock on the hour; the winged Goliath perching above Lower Briggate’s gilded golden time ball; or the blue plaque commemorating Louis Le Prince’s first ever moving picture on Leeds Bridge.

As your feet find their rhythm, cello and vocals from Abel himself soar above the acoustics, like warm melodic honey

Abel Selaocoe’s soundwalk for Leeds, invites you to experience the city ‘As You Are’, with fresh eyes, and ears, illuminating the pavements and passageways we sweep past every day. Composed and recorded as the U.K. emerged from lockdown, Opera North has restaged the experience to coincide with Leeds 2023’s ‘Awakening’ programme. And three years on from the restrictions that shook so many communities nationally, As You Are’s message around healing and ritual, remains just as pertinent. 

2023 04 13 Creative Director And Ceo Of Leeds 2023 Kully Thiarai With Leeds 2023 Volunteers At The As You Are Kiosk In Victoria Gate Credit Justin Slee 1
Creative Director and CEO of Leeds 2023, Kully Thiarai with Leeds 2023 volunteers at the As You Are kiosk in Victoria Gate Image: Justin Slee

The soundwalk is as energising, as it is cathartic, thanks to a blend of swelling strings from The Orchestra, and the rousing harmonies of The Opera North Chorus, who are joined by Moroccan guimbri player Simo Lagnawi;  Zimbabwean mbira player Anna Mudeka; and djembe virtuoso - Sidiki Dembélé from the Ivory Coast.

As your feet find their rhythm, cello and vocals from Abel himself soar above the acoustics, like warm melodic honey. His is the kind of voice you’d melt under during a ‘Calm’ bedtime story. The dulcet tones you wish narrated every weekday. 

Begin your journey by collecting a map, audio guide, and a pair of headphones from Opera North’s unit inside Victoria Gate Shopping Centre, before meandering across to County and Thorntons Arcade, to Lands Lane. Left here, and the undulation of drums synchronise with the sights and scents of street food carts lining your route down to the river. 

2023 04 13 A Leeds 2023 Volunteer Pauses To Enjoy As You Are In The Corn Exchange Credit Justin Slee 1
A Leeds 2023 volunteer pausing to enjoy As You Are at Leeds Corn Exchange Image: Justin Slee

As You Are is about walking and exploring what is around us while we listen”, says Abel. “What I find really interesting is that you can find so many cultures in this space: it’s about celebrating that, asking people to come as they are, but also to look beyond themselves, to be curious and to find comfort and healing in other people and their cultures and philosophies.” 

2023 04 13 Creative Director And Ceo Of Leeds 2023 Kully Thiarai In The County Arcade Credit Justin Slee 1
Creative Director and CEO of Leeds 2023, Kully Thiarai at Leeds County Arcade Image: Justin Slee

Based in Manchester, Abel’s mastery of both western classical music and traditions from across Africa, has seen him feted in both spheres, recently receiving the Royal Philharmonic Society’s Instrumentalist Award, where he was described as ‘a musical prophet’ who ‘lays bare all the joys and wonders that come from making music’. Concomitantly, As You Are will appeal to audiences of all ages, whether or not you’ve engaged with any of Opera North’s previous projects or productions.

Your return to Victoria Gate takes you on a lap of Leeds’s stunning Grade I listed Corn Exchange, designed by Cuthbert Brodrick in 1863. Turn your gaze heavenwards, and you’ll see the garlands and ox-skull decoration below the giant cast iron and glass dome, where cloth and corn were once traded. Abel encourages you onwards, clicking and clapping up Vicar Lane through to the climactic finale. 

2023 04 12 Abel Selaocoe In The Corn Exchange Leeds On The Route Of His Soundwalk As You Are Credit Matt Davis 1 1
Abel Selacoe in Leeds Corn Exchange Matt Davis

Inspired by “South African ‘Postola’ music, the soundwalk has a truly restorative feel to it, especially given the circular nature of the route, with its constant start and finish point. “As classical musicians, we’re used to the change: the progression; the harmony, but in African music we connect the ends, and you never know where the beginning is,” Abel concludes.

As You Are runs from Thursday 30 March – Saturday 29 April, with walks at 10am, 11.30am, 1pm and 2.30pm. In line with Opera North’s commitment to make its work as accessible as possible, tickets are ‘pay as you feel’, and can be booked at

Follow Sarah Cotterill on Twitter @scottnodot

Get the latest news to your inbox

Get the latest food & drink news and exclusive offers by email by signing up to our mailing list. This is one of the ways that Confidentials remains free to our readers and by signing up you help support our high quality, impartial and knowledgable writers. Thank you!


Read next: 'Run don’t walk!' - Kanto, Leeds, reviewed

Read again: Behind the scenes at Bradford’s first speciality coffee roasters