Even under ‘normal’ circumstances this event would have been an exciting and ambitious project. Originally planned for April 2020, postponed until December due to Covid, by which time many of us had not seen a live concert, exhibition or social gathering since March, there was an extra special feeling to the activities. Additional preparation by the organisers ensured everything was socially distanced and safe, all done brilliantly with little hinderance to people's enjoyment.
Concert image courtesy of Robert Golden
The project was organised by performing arts charity Opera Circus & HOME in Bridport. Jamal & Alaa were invited to take part in 3 days of workshops in Bridport, Dorset, concluding with 2 concerts on International Human Rights Day (December 10th).
Further details can be found on the project website: exileartproject.com
Founded in 1991 Opera Circus devise "projects with children and young people using creative and cultural activities to explore issues of Equality, Inclusion and Child and Human Rights both in the UK and internationally, particularly in Italy, Bosnia and Serbia." (from their website).
We first met Artistic Director & Producer Tina Ellen Lee via community work with the Guifa Project, at Glyndebourne in 2018, so it was really exciting to be invited to take part in this new project, in what was our first 'real world' gig booking since lockdown started.
Thanks to Robert Golden for these photographs. (Alaa & Jamal, Zangi, Zangi, Concert Finalé, Udit & Ricky, Udit, Ricky, Alaa & Jamal)
More of his work here: robertgoldenpictures.com
Jamal and Alaa had driven to Dorset on the Monday eve, to take part in schools workshops, and rehearsals with the other musicians. I travelled Wednesday eve, taking the train after work (fortunately there was hardly anyone on board and it felt pretty safe). Arriving at our hosts house, to be greeted with delicious Syrian food, made by the Jamal and Alaa, who wanted to show some of their cuisine. We were all made to feel welcome, by our hosts Sarah and Sam, as we sat discussing music and shared stories.
On Thursday morning we visited the accompanying exhibition feature artwork from Robert Golden, Ricky Romain & Cedoux Kadima (See their exhibition contributions in the links - its an excellent show, well worth a visit)
Ricky was also one of the musicians, playing Sitar, with Udit Pankhania on Tabla, also performing was UK based Kenyan musician Zangi.
The afternoon featured a live stream concert to 48 local schools, including contributions from all the musicians and readings from local students from Colefox school , who introduced with a short talk on Human Rights Day. Their school is an accredited UNICEF Rights Respecting School, and Bridport was the first Rights Respecting town in the UK, which initially had been the idea of students from the school.
After the first performance, it was great to meet the musicians and learn from their experiences. Ricky had first picked up Sitar after hearing the Beatles Sgt Pepper, he went on to study for many years with an Indian teacher. Zangi grown up listening to his mum sing. He'd played around Europe, worked with Opera Circus in Bosnia and Serbia, and could sing songs in the local languages. Udit is an excellent Tabla player and gave us information about how the playing methods developed. He, Jamal and Alaa were all reasonably new to the group. The musicians hadn't all met until Monday eve, but were already playing together comfortably. The mutual admiration and respect amongst the musicians was clear to see, and listening to them play together, bouncing musical ideas between them was a joy to see.
The finale evening concert saw excellent music performances from local musicians and the visiting groups (selected recordings below will be included in our work with the British Library). The concert finished with all the musicians performing a reworking of John Denvers "Take Me Home, Country Roads" with the lyrics changed to 'Home in Bridport' it was an inspiring moment with the audience clapping along, if it hadn't been for Covid, we would probably have joined in the singing too.
After the event everyone said their good byes, and we set of for the journey home, finally reaching bed at 2.30 in the morning. It was absolutely worth it, and hopefully the beginning of ongoing friendships, music and art.
Big thanks to Tina, Robert, all the musicians, our hosts and everyone involved who made this a spectacular and safe event.
There is currently a community campaign in Bridport to support a refugee family in the area. Details can be found here
Some of my own snapshots (Arriving in Bridport, delicious Syrian food at our host's house, Anti Racism poster in shop window, Alaa in the art gallery, photos from the art exhibition, socially distanced seating in the venue, Bridport at night & stage set up)