The Sound Routes - music surmounting language barriers to engage refugees

  • 1 year 5 months ago
  • programme grantloan

On the first Thursday of every month, new interpretations of popular Arab songs and traditional works are brought to the stage at Werkstatt Der Kulturen in Berlin, performed by musicians who have fled to Germany as refugees.

This concert series – known as the Arab Song Jam - owes its format from the black American jam session culture of the 1940s. The first set of the evening is presented by a regular trio or quartet, while the second set is open to all musicians new to the city who are familiar with a repertoire of traditional and popular songs from the Middle East.

"There are many songs from the region that every child knows”, says German-Egyptian singer, oud player and percussionist Nasser Kilada, who hosts the series. "To reinterpret them so that they sound new again – that is a highly accomplished art.”

The concerts are part of the EU-financed project “The sound routes. Notes for getting closer”, which aims at integrating refugees in Europe. Werkstatt Der Kulturen and partner organisations in Belgium, Italy and Spain are cooperating to bring refugee and migrant musicians together with European artists and local communities. The partners are promoting performances and concerts designed to support integration into the social and professional contexts of the refugees' new environment.

More than 50 jam sessions will be open to semi-professional and professional musicians offering them opportunities to integrate into the creative community. The events, which are free and open to the public, also provide a chance for photographic exhibitions and discussions about migration, and for people simply to meet and chat over a drink.

A jam session in Seville in June brought three musicians from Aleppo together on stage: Mahmud Fares, Muhannad Dughenaim and Mohammad Mkanze.

Muhannad said:

"This is a magic moment for us. We never had the chance to play together in our city and it is now happening here in Spain, a stable and safe place where we can play music."

In April Ahmed Tanbouz from Palestine sang and played the darbouka in an intimate house concert in Bologna, accompanied  by Susanna Cocchi of Italy on flute. These small-scale apéritif events in private spaces offer comfortable opportunities to artists and audiences to socialise, exchange and share art, stories and cultural traditions.

Since the project launch in March 2017, jam sessions and house concerts have been held right through the summer in Rome, Berlin, Seville, and Bologna. Highlights have also included a performance by the Hanin Group, founded in Berlin in 2017, who perform tradition Syrian songs as part of an initiative for empowering refugee women in the Syrian diaspora by providing social and psychological support.


Choir of singers at the Sound Routes project

An open call in early 2017 invited recently-arrived refugee and migrant musicians to take part in the project, which will reach its finale with a concert of original music created by a multicultural professional music ensemble, that will be presented in 2018 at the Bologna Jazz Festival, the Werkstatt der Kulturen in Berlin and in other European cities.

Three selected artists will also receive grant funding and music residencies in Bologna, and the chance to play alongside prominent European professional musicians and at prestigious festivals. And all candidates will have the opportunity to promote their music work through the Virtual Music Agency that Soundroutes will start to operate in the autumn of 2017.

Ivan Pivotti, the manager of the Marmaduke music agency in Seville, is convinced of the power of music to overcome cultural differences and language barriers:

"We are especially looking forward to producing an original repertoire by ensembles bringing together European and migrant professional musicians.”