BUILDING A COMMUNITY THROUGH MUSIC – REFUGEE MUSICIANS PERFORM IN GENEVA
by Alexandra Osváth
Photo credit: Orpheus XXI
On Friday, 9 August, musical ensemble Orpheux XXI will perform during the Musiques en Été concert series in Parc la Grange. The group aims to integrate refugees by enabling them to share their music with the world.
We speak to Waed Bouhassoun, one of the Syrian artistic directors of Orpheus XXI, about how she got involved and about the group’s impact on the lives of refugee and immigrant musicians.
Some were fleeing war; others were seeking new cultural horizons. Musical ensemble Orpheus XXI is giving these talented musicians a chance to not only make a name for themselves, but to become part of a new community.
The musicians connect with their communities through performances, and also teach workshops to help children from a variety of cultures learn to express themselves and grow through music – from Arabic to Kurdish, Sephardic, Eastern European, and medieval traditions.
MUSIC FROM A YOUNG AGE
Waed’s father, a musician himself, encouraged her to choose an instrument as a young girl. “I decided to play the oud, an instrument similar to the lute,” she says. “I pursued my studies in oud and voice at the Music Conservatory of Damascus, and gave my first concert in 2006 at the Festival de l’Imaginaire in Paris.”
“Arabic is a very poetic language,” she says,“and I had to figure out how to convey that poetry to an audience with different linguistic and cultural references. That first concert in Paris really set me on the right path.”
In 2012, Jordi Savall invited Waed to take part in a concert in tribute to the Syrian people.
“Music gives me an outlet for expressing my grief for what’s happening in Syria,” says Waed.
REACHING OUT TO REFUGEE MUSICIANS
Waed accompanied Savall to “The Jungle” refugee camp in Calais, France in 2016, where they performed for refugees and found new talent. “We asked an Afghan musician who was living at the camp to perform with us for the City of Calais.”
“It was a powerful moment, where we helped break down the divide between the camp and the city (City of Calais). We showed that everyone can live together and that everyone has something to contribute.”
Their next mission to refugee camps in Thessaloniki, Greece was more emotionally challenging for Waed. “It was very hot, and there were so many children,” she recalls. “They were asking if we were going to bring them back with us. Greece is unable to house and educate all of them, and it was very hard to see people living in such deplorable conditions in the 21st century.”
“If we all contribute with our strengths and talents, we can work together to make positive changes,” says Waed. That’s where Orpheus XXI comes in.
THE ORIGINS OF ORPHEUS XXI
Founded by Jordi Savall, an EU ambassador for intercultural dialogue, Orpheus XXI was designed with the goal of helping refugee and immigrant musicians adapt to their new communities.
“As Jordi [Savall] is well-known, he is able to help these musicians build a strong reputation in Europe,” explains Waed. “Jordi selected 21 musicians who came together at the Saline Royale in Arc-et-Senans, France to share their oral musical traditions, and Orpheus XXI was born.”
The ensemble gave their first concert in July 2017, and since then they have performed in numerous concerts and festivals.
“Jordi has created a supportive, family atmosphere in Orpheus XXI,” Bouhassoun tells me. “There are no stars, no divas. It is a group performance and we work together as a team. Even though my title is ‘Artistic Director,’ everyone has a voice in our production. We are continuously learning from each other, and I think the audience can perceive this harmony in our music.”
PASSING ON TRADITIONS
The musicians also run mentoring programs for immigrant and refugee children, passing along their musical traditions to the next generation.
“We introduce the children to music, but allow them to choose whether they participate or not. We teach them percussion instruments first, so they can develop rhythm. Then the children decide which instrument they’d like to learn. Music gives children a means of expressing themselves and sharing together.”
In addition to her work with Orpheus XXI, Waed has just released her fourth album, entitled Safar : Les Âmes Retrouvées, available on Apple Music and iTunes.
A strong proponent of lifelong learning, she is also pursuing a PhD in ethnomusicology in Paris. “Musicians must continually pursue research and learning, or they will lose their creativity,” she says. “My studies have also helped me integrate into French society, and accept cultural differences.”
UPCOMING CONCERT IN GENEVA
Don’t miss Orpheus XXI’s free upcoming concert in Geneva on Friday, August 9th during the city’s Summer Music Festival, Musiques en Été.
Friday, August 9, 2019
T20:30 (8:30 pm)
Ella Fitzgerald Stage, Parc La Grange, Geneva
Free of charge