Debra is originally from Belfast but has been based in Scotland since 2003. Her career is wide-ranging as she divides her time between making music and, facilitating and administrating creative and educational projects in Scotland and Ireland.
Debra uses her vocal skills as a performer and within the work she does with the various choirs she directs. As a composer, she has a vast experience in writing music for theatre and her love of vocals has resulted in her writing a large number of a cappella arrangements for mixed choirs.
Her administrative skills are best represented in projects where there is scope to have ideas in addition to organising the project and as an educationalist, she has considerable experience in formal and informal education as well as leading vocal/music workshops with health issues at the core.
Her period back in Belfast saw her running a recording studio, Green Dolphin Studios, for 12 years prior to the move to Scotland.
'Debra Salem is a singer in the truest sense of the word, whose approach to singing is very much an art form in itself. She doesn't just carelessly trot out a melody, but really gets inside the song and inhabits every little corner of the story, fleshing out the characters of a song and the emotions contained therein.'
(Mike Wilson review from Celtic Connections 2009)
Her style draws from both the folk and jazz genres and embraces 'anything else that works'. Debra's original songs deal in singable melodies and word play and are hard to define into any particular genre.
This range of styles is particularly evident in 'In a Sma Room ' - the show which she originated and which was part of the Made in Scotland showcase for the 2014 Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Here Debra, Kevin MacKenzie and Paul Harrison set to music a number of poems by William Soutar - the songs all written with her in mind.
As well as her own gigs she has sung backing vocals with Dougie MaClean on his Rural Image tour, and also with Fraser Anderson. She sang the part of 'Jazz Singer' with the Ulster Orchestra's performance of Terry Riley's 'In C' and in In 2008 she was Danny Kyle Open Stage winner at Celtic Connections.
Debra wrote her first song when she was 11. It was about the Troubles in Northern Ireland ... Then there were years of songs about unrequited love, and then Christmas carols every year from the age of 13 that her school would perform at Christmas which culminated in the final year at school when she sat at the piano and played while directing the school choir in a gospel type number...it had the words 'Brothers and Sisters rejoice with each other, rejoice' and a bit of acapella singing to rock style handclapping!
As part of her work with Theatre In Education, she was commissioned to write many songs within this genre for companies in Northern Ireland and England - including setting to music the 'Jolly Postman and Other Peoples Letters'.
As a singer/songwriter there was a lull for a number of years but she started writing again on coming to Scotland and a couple of these songs appear on her CD - About Time.
She is hoping in the not too distant future to record an album of all original material.
Debra has worked on over 70 professional commissions for theatre, radio, television and dance.
She was the Sound Designer/Composer for the 2012-13 and 2013-14 seasons at Perth Theatre, Scotland working on shows such as the award-winning Seafarer and the hugely successful Macbeth. In 2014 she worked on Unfaithful - one of the Made In Scotland/Fringe Festival shows for the Traverse. Her other credits have included shows for Leeds Playhouse, 7:84 and many professional theatre companies in Ireland - North and South including shows for the Lyric Theatre, Ulster Theatre Company Charabanc as well as Barabbas Theatre Company in Dublin.
She likes to mix recorded and live sound, incorporate sound effects and use vocals where relevant and possible. She has been involved in some great community projects....there was the one with a live band, community cast with lots of bodhrans, 3 children's choirs, stirring 'anthemic' like song, a pre-recorded original backing track and lots of sound effects. Then there was the one with a small ensemble raised up high on some scaffolding surrounded by a choir and lots of small stages with performances taking place, and a large snake (not real) which was meant to move upwards....sadly this project never got to the end as someone set of the fire alarm!
More recently she has been working with Veronica Coburn (Dublin) on community theatre projects writing songs for the projects based on devised text. Currently, she is composing the music for 10 'Songs of Change' with lyrics taken from online sessions over the 2020 lockdown summer.
She composed/set to music six songs for The Sma Room Seance.
Debra has been involved with choirs and vocal groups for over 25 years and has a wealth of experience with all ages and abilities.
In Perth she formed Craigie Community Choir back in 2004 and with them has had many great experiences including getting down to the last 60 of BBCs Last Choir Standing; singing on tour and at Scone Palace, Perth with RUNRIG to an audience of 17,000; singing backing vocals for male vocal group BLAKE; singing on a number of albums including RUNRIG's Greatest Hits Album.
Until recently she was the Musical Director of the Scottish Police and Community Choir for both the Tayside (rehearsing in Perth) and Glasgow groups of this choir.
She regularly makes visits to Dublin where she is the Musical Director of the Hallelujah Clown Choir at Draiocht Arts Centre working with Veronica Coburn on this group of red nose clowns that sing!
She has also been involved with Horsecross Arts in Perth - facilitating Horsecross Voices since it started with the opening of Perth Concert Hall in 2005. She regularly takes sessions there, as well as at the other satellite groups in Kinross and Errol. With Horsecross she also leads special vocal projects such as The Southern Fried Voices which can appear at the Southern Fired Festival.
In the last 5 years, Debra has also been developing her work within a health setting. She has worked closely with Tayside Healthcare Arts Trust (THAT) to deliver vocal/musical projects to those with COPD, Dementia and Parkinsons.