‘Being that representation for someone else is such a good feeling’ says local musician

Disabled musician Rhiannon Barber hosts the first accessible open mic event in Wales to highlight inclusivity in the arts

Disabled musician Rhiannon Barber performing at Breakout Festival
Rhiannon performing on stage at Breakout Youth Festival which she helped organise. Photo – Rhiannon Barber

Musician and vocalist Rhiannon Barber, 22, is determined to change attitudes towards disabilities in the arts industries across Cardiff and South Wales, recently hosting the first fully accessible open mic event in Wales, at Clwb Y Bont in Pontypridd.

The open mic served as a chance to encourage performers of all abilities to have a moment in the spotlight, and the performers included poets, musicians, and singers.

Rhiannon’s background

Originally from Llanelli, Rhiannon moved to Cardiff in 2019 to study Drama and Creative writing at Cardiff Metropolitan University where she found a passion for music production. Since graduating in 2022, Rhiannon now makes a living as a full-time freelance musician.

With her left arm paralysed from birth, Rhiannon is unable to play a number of instruments which led her to more creative ways of making music.

“I’ve recently created music using purely my voice with a loop station,” Rhiannon said, meaning she uses her vocals to create sounds that can be turned into elements such as a drumbeat, melody and lyrics.

At the end of the day the disabled performer will know their needs better than anybody

Despite creating entire tracks live, some individuals have made it clear they don’t think much of Rhiannon’s talents. “I would go onto pub floors and festival stages using just my voice, and even doing that I’ve had people come up to me and tell me that I’m not a real musician, just a singer.”

Rhiannon says negative comments are “a really big driving force” for her to continue her passion. Yet she still sees many people put down because they are not physically able to do something and “have been judged for it” she adds.

“Then they’ll say to themselves ‘Well then I’m not a performer’ or ‘I’m not a singer’; ‘I can’t do theatre’, ‘I can’t make art because someone has told me that I’m never going to be able to do it’, and it’s crazily common.”

Making changes

Highlighting accessibility issues is a regular occurrence in a disabled person’s life. Rhiannon finds advising organisations and venues on how to become more accessible can significantly improve people’s ability to join in, whether it be as an audience member or as a performer.

While many venues comply with accessibility regulations, there is still a limit on availability in accessible points such as wheelchair tickets and lifts for those who can’t make use of stairs. Disability Arts Cymru approached Rhiannon to discover ways of teaching disabled people how to play instruments, for example, and Rhiannon believes the solution is quite simple.

“The easiest thing to do is ask. At the end of the day the disabled performer will know their needs better than anybody and they know exactly what they want, ask them how they think they can do it.

“It’s having that communication with the people involved, not creating something for someone but creating something with someone.”

Watch some of Rhiannon’s performances and Podcasts on her YouTube channel

Rhiannon’s other projects include ‘Between the Binaries’, a project that encouraged conversation about gender identity which resulted in audio visual experience ‘Call Me By Your Name’ that compiles the experiences that were shared, as well as ‘Breakout Festival’ in Blackwood which showcased a variety of different youth performers.

Rhiannon also busks regularly around the streets of South Wales. To find out when and where she will be, you can follow Rhiannon @rightkeysonly on Instagram and Tik Tok.  

Rhiannon’s other projects

At the Dinner Table – a podcast featuring chats with influential cultural people

Rightkeysonly – find Rhiannon’s next performance on her Instagram

On Tik Tok – keep up with Rhiannon on her Tik Tok