A guest post by Tess Berry-Hart
There’s an interesting jam happening in the leafy suburbs of Greenwich. A choir of over 30 members from 15 different countries are performing a rendition of “Scarborough Fair” accompanied by North African darabouka drumbeats and rapping by an Iraqi refugee. From new arrivals from Syria and Afghanistan, to older generations who fled historical conflicts in Africa and Asia, choir members come together every Wednesday night to sing and build bridges with the local community. This evening is particularly exciting as it’s the last practice before our first ever public concert by the Citizens of the World Choir.
It’s Ramadan, which means choir practice is particularly hard for some of our members, but luckily our accountant Pete has brought along a large amount of halal food for everyone to break their fast when the sun goes down.
“Next week we perform in Parliament!” shouts Becky, the musical director and founder of the Becky Dell Music Academy. “Don’t forget to turn up early so we can have a quick practice beforehand!”
“Performances are totally different to rehearsals,” warns our pianist Tom. “It’s an entirely different mindset so make sure you look over all the songs before next week.”
Most choir members have never performed in public before, and this week starts off a month of gigs from Parliament to South London to North Wales. Joined by actress Emily Watson and jazz singer Ian Shaw at Parliament, the choir will be performing a programme of music from Zulu anthems to traditional English ballads, American jazz and “Safe Passage,” an original song in Arabic, Tigrinya and English, that I wrote especially for the choir.
“I never thought I would be part of anything like this,” says Mohammed, a 21 year old from Syria. “I believe that this choir will be one of the best projects that I could ever be involved in and it will not only bring people from all different backgrounds and religions together, but also it will open their eyes to what other cultures and languages look like.”
The brainchild of Lord Roger Roberts of Llandudno, and Becky Dell, Musical Director of the Becky Dell Music Academy, the choir was formed in March 2017 to celebrate the talents of refugees and asylum seekers after they realised a community project built around their shared love of music could help bring people from diverse backgrounds together. Named after Theresa May’s disparaging comment that “to be a citizen of the world is to be a citizen of nowhere,” the choir has appropriated that sentiment and turned it into a badge of pride.
“We are like birds that fly and sing together,” says Sonia, a choir member from Iran. “We say, we are one. We are citizens of the world,”
“Refugees bring so many talents with them,” says Lord Roger. “So why not set up a choir to celebrate what we can do together?”
For a full list of events, please visit the Citizens of the World Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/CitizensoftheWorldChoir/?ref=br_rs or @CotWChoir on Twitter
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