Refugee Camp Street Studios

by Jeremy Thal

According the UNHRC, there are “an unprecedented 65.3 million people around the world have been forced from home. Among them are nearly 21.3 million refugees, over half of whom are under the age of 18.” The number of migrants – for economic and security reasons – is 100s of millions more. While many migrants have settled in new homes and adjusted to foreign cultures, many live in slums and temporary, unstable housing conditions that often resemble refugee camps.

As artists, we have no particular power to change these massive situations – we can only attempt to be compassionate, to push the needle slightly towards an attitude of compassion and receptivity.  We want more than to tell people’s stories, or simply to give refugees a mouthpiece, (all of which has been done well already by other media outlets), but rather, to set up collaborations between artists and refugees (whether they are world-class musicians or total novices) – with the idea that in this conversation, something of truly rich artistic value will emerge. We seek to begin process that brings us closer together, and allows to devise a collective path forward.

This past summer, FSN co-director Jeremy Thal and 2014 OneBeat Alumnus Bajram “Kafu” Kinolli led a street studio at a refugee camp in Sindos, a suburb of Thessaloniki in northern Greece. All four of these tracks were recorded on two days, one at the camp, and another in a predominantly Roma village near Vranje, Serbia, which has a particularly strong tradition of brass playing. Only sounds from these two days of recording are included in the tracks. While at the camp in Sindos, participants included both refugee children and adults from Syria and Iraq, including a young Iraqi who sang in Turkish, an Iraqi Kurd, and two young Syrians who rapped in Arabic and English. The recording session also included Greek and Swiss staff.

One of the principle problems refugees face there is anxiety about the future. When we asked the local coordinator of a Swiss non-profit what they lacked the most – thinking: food, clothing, medical supplies – his response was: “information.” He said the refugees wanted to know when they would be registered, where their families were transferred, if their families back home were safe, and how long they would have to live in this defunct leather factory behind the Mercedes Benz dealership.

These feelings of anxiety, frustration, and hope, emerged in the songs themselves. During our street studio, one of our participants, a 23-year-old man from near Homs, Syria, wrote these lyrics, which provide a quick glimpse into the many voices that would emerge from this project. He was quite a skilled dancer, but had never before written a song.

[In Arabic:]

We were forced

We were wronged

We rode violent waves

Looking for freedom

Because our life is miserable

And we’re still waiting to live life

To live hope, to live freedom