Healing through music: London choir changes perceptions of migrants

Opera song

Can music change perceptions of migrants and refugees? This is precisely what the Global Citizens Choir is trying to do in London. Its members welcomed Little Amal to London – in a very special place.

She traveled 8,000 kilometers from the border town of Gaziantep in south-eastern Turkey to London in the UK, touching the hearts of a large audience. Little Amal shares the story of millions of displaced children around the world and in doing so has traveled across Europe, stopping in Greece, Italy, France, Switzerland, Germany, Belgium and all the way to Britain – even befriending Pope Francis along the way.

Arriving in the British capital, the larger-than-life doll of Little Amal received a special welcome at the Royal Opera House, a world-class opera house located in the city’s West End theater district.

Jillian Barker, Director of Learning and Participation at the Royal Opera House, said that “(a) if London stops, our singers and dancers will pay tribute both to her journey and to those of the many displaced children in around the world – drawing attention to one of the defining issues of our time. ” Among those who also hosted Little Amal in London was Mayor Sadiq Khan.

Under the title “A Bed for the Night”, Little Amal – whose name in Arabic means “hope” – was introduced to the London public through a series of on-site performances. After various dance and theater performances, the puppet was rocked by the Citizens of the World Choir, a London vocal group made up of migrants, refugees, asylum seekers, displaced people and their allies, alongside of the Royal Opera Chorus.

Choir co-founder and Music Director Becky Dell of the Global Citizens Choir said from the start of the project she was passionate about the prospect of leading the concert and having her international choir perform. She said InfoMigrants that after four months of rehearsals, it was “exciting and so enjoyable for everyone to have a whole new experience in a very high level project”.

For Becky Dell, working with the Citizens of the World choir is a labor of love | Copyright: Citizens of the World Choir

A journey of joy

Founded in 2017, the choir has around fifty members from 30 different countries of origin. About half of its voices are made up of refugees and migrants, while the other half are non-displaced people, showing their support by singing. Half of the choir members have already worked with music and sung, while the other half have not.

“Some of our choir members come from countries where they are not allowed to sing. I didn’t even know it was a thing,” Dell says, adding that working with the choir has been “the greatest joy and the biggest trip of my life. “

“Our choir members have enriched our lives in ways we never imagined possible. We never knew what we were missing. It’s just a wonderful cultural exchange, where we will play everything from rap Arabic with Welsh songs and Zulu folk tunes. “

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Changing hearts and minds

Despite coming from so different backgrounds, the World Citizens Choir performs to rave reviews about 15 times a year at various events – but singing at the Royal Opera House for the Little Amal reception was a grueling first. for everyone. implied. After all, the group was to perform a piece of music specially written for the occasion by the famous English songwriter, singer and songwriter Ayanna Witter-Johnson.

Yet the choir’s mission is not just to perform on stage but to change hearts and minds about displaced populations: just show them what we do as a choir, and if you like it. , that’s great, ”explains Dell.

Music: the ultimate blessing

Naomi from Kenya was one of the first people to join the World Citizens Choir almost five years ago. “From the start we were welcomed here and we sing together, even those who can’t sing. It is such an exciting experience, especially for refugees and immigrants. Most of us have never sung outside of church before. Now we are going to sing in front of a large audience. It is such a blessing. “

Dell, who also runs a music academy in south-east London, explains that the choir originally started with three goals in mind for people like Naomi: “to help healing through the power of music, help with community integration and show the important contributions refugees and migrants make to our society.

“Singing is a great way to be human, to share our connectedness and our understanding.”

Read more: “Walk with me”: a music video connects displaced people with host communities around the world

Members of the choir come from all walks of life |  Copyright: Citizens of the World Choir
Members of the choir come from all walks of life | Copyright: Citizens of the World Choir

A family of songs

Naomi sings in English and Kiswahili, but is surrounded in the choir by migrants and refugees from other cultures and languages. “It’s so nice to learn their songs and to hear them sing. It’s like listening to a bird on a tree when I hear a new song from someone else in the choir,” she says. InfoMigrants, adding that she enjoys music in Little Amal’s language, Arabic.

Naomi (left) found her home in London in Citizens of the World Choir |  Copyright: Sertan Sanderson
Naomi (left) found her home in London in Citizens of the World Choir | Copyright: Sertan Sanderson

But her favorite tune sung by the choir is the popular South African Zulu cyclical hymn of hope called “Siyahamba” – with its lyrics translating to “we walk in the light of the world”. Becky Dell believes the song’s message reflects the spirit of the World Citizens Choir itself:

“They say the world is a book and if you stay in your country you only read by page. And now we have all had to experience reading 30 more pages of the world through this project based on the compassion, dignity and understanding. “

And Naomi agrees, “These people aren’t just my friends. They’re my family, honestly.

“I feel once I was lost. But now I am found.”