Transforming Communities

Asylum Sounds

Life is sweet when we sing together
Life is cool when we dance all night
We need kind people to make life better
We take our energy from the sun

In Spring 2023, Live Music Now had a phone call from music leader Ben Sellers, asking whether we would be interested in working with him on a project with asylum seekers in Somerset. Ben, with fellow musician Tara Baggott, had already led some informal workshops at an asylum hotel. He felt passionately that regular music activities would bring enormous benefit to children and families at the hotel, who had experienced unimaginable challenges and often acute trauma, and were now facing continuing uncertainty as they navigated the asylum process.

In collaboration with Somerset refugee charity CHARIS, and having secured funding through Youth Music’s Trailblazer programme, we began weekly workshops at the hotel in November 2023. Since then, Ben and Tara have used music to bring together various cultural groups and nationalities within the hotel. This has often started with individual instrumental tuition, and then participants moving into ensembles with individuals supporting each other both interpersonally and musically.

“The music sessions are improving the mood of the whole [asylum] hotel, not just the people involved in making music.” (Parent)

A group of people in a recording studio, singing and clapping hands

The music leaders’ approach has been shaped by the interests and needs of the young people and their families. CHARIS, who coordinate the community response to asylum seekers living in the hotel, have provided invaluable support, training and advice throughout.

A four-day school holiday songwriting project was a particular highlight, culminating in a studio visit to record music from participants’ countries alongside original songs.

A boy playing the saxophone in a recording studio, with music leader
Photos by [email protected]

Music leader Tara Baggott said, “A young girl’s first attempt at song-writing developed over a few days and ended up including lots of the other young people that we’ve been working with. She created the entire song from scratch, from drums to chords to melody, and then added her own original lyrics. The song, based on the theme of fun things to do in the summer, was then added to by other young people. [In the studio recording] everyone got involved with singing the chorus, which was a beautiful, unifying moment.”

“Thank you very much for allowing me and helping me and teaching me and supporting me.” (Asylum seeker M, following recording of her song)

Over the months we have seen confidence grow and a sense of community building in the hotel, bridging cultural and language barriers through a shared enjoyment and sense of achievement in music making.

“Thank you so much for coming to share music with us. It makes our day so much better.” (Asylum seeker H, following regular workshop)
Young woman with headphones, singing into a microphone, looking at lyrics in Arabic on her phone.

 

A group of people in a recording studio, singing and clapping hands

Asylum Sounds

Life is sweet when we sing together Life is cool when we dance all night We need kind people to make life better We take

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