Teaching music to refugees

They are from Sudan, Afghanistan, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Pakistan. They walked, then when their boat’s engine failed, floated on the current. When they were at risk of sinking in an overloaded boat, smugglers ferrying them across the Mediterranean threw their water bottles and daypacks overboard.

They crossed several European borders before fences to thwart them sprang up. They made it to Calais Jungle, in the north of France, hoping for a life in France or England.

In the tent city of Calais Jungle, they attend our music class to sing and beat out rhythms on their bodies. They learn mouth pops and English. The attention span of the youth lasts thirty to ninety seconds, a few minutes more for the Sudanese boys.

We, Expressive Arts Refuge, are adapting to squalor, constant noise, basic levels of musicality, and rats the size of cats. We’ve taught a song from Nigeria and one from Cuba. We add body music and adapt lyrics to make them relevant, with input from refugees:
I love the mountains
I love the rolling hills
I love the flowers
I love England still
I love my family
I love community
Bm di odda bm di odda bm di odda bm

Songs are beginning to travel in the camp. We heard one young Afghan singing a song we taught, several hours after class, utterly out of tune.

I’ll look for a male assistant/translator among the refugees. Families are sequestered in a family camp, so we see mostly unaccompanied minors (about 1000 boys) and men in their twenties and thirties (roughly 6000). The faces of the boys have toughened. They cannot let down their guard. While singing, drawing, or playing with other children, their boyishness slips out.

They are floating on fate.

Author: earefuge

I direct EAR (Expressive Arts Refuge) whose work focuses on refugee youth in France and Greece. At home in Oakland, California, I direct World Harmony Chorus and World Harmony Ensemble.

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