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Refugees for Refugees: “sharing music is the best solution for overcoming prejudices”

Refugees for Refugees is a group of refugee artists who started a new life in Belgium and love to share their music with as much people as possible. It is their goal to change the pejorative vision regarding refugees. Through their music, they want to show that they are people like you and me, with talents and emotions. A band like Refugees for Refugees has the potential to create a positive image for refugees in a country where there are still a lot of preconceptions and racism.

Article by Nora Nqi, pictures by Dieter Telemans

Members of Refugees for Refugees come from different countries and backgrounds: Afghanistan, Syria, Tibet, Pakistan and Irak. Belgian artists with a passion for world music have also joined the group. In 2016, Muziekpublique, an association that exists in order to promote and spread world music and traditional dance, reunited twenty refugee artists, with the goal of showing the talent and potential of all independent musicians. During the creation of their first album "Amerli" and through playing and sharing their music, the musicians of Refugees for Refugees developed a strong connection among each other.

During the past 2 years, ten of the twenty musicians featured on "Amerli" reunited and worked on a second album, called "Amina". This album is also a collaboration between the 3 communities and regions in Belgium as many musicians live in Flanders or in Wallonia as well as in Brussels. We recently attended the press conference for the concert where we met two members of Refugees of Refugees. Tareq Alsayed from Syria and Tristan Driessens from Belgium shared the result of their second album “Amina” with us.

Refugees for Refugees music group
Refugees for Refugees - Picture by Dieter Telemans
Tareq: "Playing music is the best way to integrate in Belgium, because we sing with people that come from different backgrounds and cultures".

What do you want to convey through your music?

Tareq: When playing music, we start from scratch. Our second album Amina is a musical mix of cultures, since we made a long travel for sharing our music. For me, music is the cheapest solution for society’s ills, since you can create it from nothing and it is positive and useful to people. Even if Syria is still in an expensive war, my country didn’t lose all of its nice side because traditional Syrian music persists.

Tristan: “Amina” is the result of the open-mindedness of the members and the original cohesion that binds us. The album is optimistic and positive. I’ve never heard a song where an Afghan singer opens the piece, followed by a Syrian who then again is followed by a Tibetan mantra at the end. The result is not shocking at all, it’s like it has always been like that.

How did you manage to find harmony while using all these different instruments?

Tareq: I wasn’t surprised to see different instruments in the group but I didn’t know most of them. Traditional Syrian music is my area of expertise but I also like jazz, western music and classical Turkish music. We just had to practise a little bit more, get used to it and ask the right information about other instruments. In the end it wasn’t difficult because there are common characteristics in each instrument, is was quite interesting.

Tristan: We had to find access to each others culture and cultivate a common culture of openness in order to create a new harmony. It wouldn’t have worked if a musician just wanted to play his own music. This mindset would have been difficult to maintain in a group like Refugees for Refugees.

Tristan: “It’s an approach of sharing, beyond any label. We don’t care if we’re refugees or not. We share everything in order to create something harmonious

Is music a way of overcoming boundaries?

Tareq: Actually, mixing cultures is quite easy. In this project we experienced no boundaries between the musicians, because we had music as a common language In reality, there is a long distance between Syria and Tibet, but we feel very close.

Tristan: Every musician in this project has a painful past and they are separated from their family, friends and they miss their country. Because of our past and experience, we have developed a feeling of empathy and I assume that empathy destroys all the boundaries and prejudices towards each other in a very efficient way.

Refugees for Refugees - Official Teaser Album 2019

On February 16 you can witness Refugees for Refugees live at Ancienne Belgique as they present their second album.

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