Syria

GemArts East by North East – Syrian Kings Case Study (Nov 2019)

Ahmad (19) and Hussein (18) had been in Gateshead less than one year when they began making music on ‘Dispersed Belongings’ a project delivered by Gem Arts in collaboration with Durham University and Gateshead Council Resettlement Team. Our initial sessions were based around the concept of belonging, identity and feelings of home. The young men had no previous experience of music making and we were working with an interpreter during those first few months together, exploring band work, lyric writing and percussion with GemArts music leaders Izzy and Pav.

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Ahmad and Hussein were progressed on to GemArts East by North East project (funded by Youth Music) and found that they shared an interest in hip hop, and both felt passionately that music could be a powerful tool of communicating their lived experiences of the war in Syria, forced migration, love, and lost love. They continued working with music leaders Pav and Izzy, and soon began writing lyrics together and bringing new material to each session along with musical references and songs that would later inspire beats that they would create during the sessions using Logic Pro and a MIDI keyboard. Their lyrics are often in Arabic and sometimes fused with English but always reference their real, lived experiences.

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During autumn 2018, internationally acclaimed artist/anti-war activist/Iraq war army veteran Aaron Hughes was selected to receive The Baltic Artist Award at The Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art. Aaron’s art focuses on the traumas of war, displacement and human connection despite pain. Aaron was interested in collaborating with local people who’ve similar experiences and was put in touch with GemArts to learn more about the creative work involving resettled Syrian youth living in Gateshead. The plan was to reimagine Wilfred Owen’s War Requiem alongside several award winning poets and music maestro, Karim Wasfi. This was an ambitious project for all of us and the beginning of The Syrian Kings journey.

Although there are 13 young people who attend our music session regularly, Ahmad and Hussein are consistently keen to create new material and up until recently they were the only two in the group who considered themselves lyricists. In winter 2018 they worked hard demonstrating determination and discipline to create two pieces ‘Doomed Youth’ and ‘Permanent Stars’ for the performance with Aaron at the Baltic and decided to call their musical duo The Syrian Kings.

During the process of creating lyrics, tracks and raps for Permanent Stars in response to Wilfred Owens’s poem ‘But I was Looking at The Permanent Stars’ the group talked about what bugles represented in the war, how they were mournful and often associated with the death of soldiers. They discussed what could be used as an equivalent sound in Syria and asked the group if there was a similar instrument. They told us the sounds of ambulance sirens, radio signal, shattered glass and bombs were all the sounds the associated with the sadness and trauma of war in Syria. These sounds can all be heard throughout our track (the explosion sound became a useful tool for us to mark every 8 bars for rap verses).

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Credit and Copyright ©: Colin Davison

The group resonated with the lines in the poem “Voices of boys were by the river-side. Sleep mothered them; and left the twilight sad” and have echoed this with lyrics in Arabic about ships that were supposed to keep people safe but did not, and left bodies of children on the shore.

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Credit and Copyright ©: Colin Davison

Collaborating with international artists for their first performance was challenging and the thought of performing with people who you’ve never met is a daunting prospect for any musician but they worked hard and the performance was a huge success.

Aaron Hughes said on working with The Syrian Kings “Ahmad and Hussein had brilliantly related their experiences to Owen’s poems. Connecting the political situation in Syria and the lack of responsibility for the war to the needless violence of World War One. One section addressed their feelings of displacement, “ I already feel like I’ve lost my place, my hometown is gone without a trace, looking for something I can’t replace…” However, unlike Owen’s poems, Ahmed and Hussein expressed a bit of hope and determination “I’m never going back, I’m here to stay got to keep trying to find another way.”

The opportunity to connect two emerging artists with internationally recognised artists was invaluable and raised the aspirations and self-esteem of The Syrian Kings. They were treated as professional artists throughout the process and experienced the empowerment of collective creative endeavour.

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Credit and Copyright ©: Colin Davison

This year, The Syrian Kings have been invited to perform at multiple hiphop and spoken word events and continued to write, record and perform original material, spreading their message and raising awareness of the political situation in Syria. Hussein and Ahmad are powerful role models and nurture and encourage other young people in our music session to write and create songs that are important to them.

“I am here because I have a message. It is my responsibility to tell people what is happening in my country. I have freedom to say whatever I want and I need to use this. Syria is a beautiful place and the words come from the heart, I know that I will always want to write lyrics and make music, it is something I will carry with me my whole life now.” Hussein

 

Co-authored by Izzy Finch and Vikas Kumar

WOMAN

By Bobby Tiwana, curator of WOMAN at GemArts Masala Festival

WAR-IASTILL FROM ‘WAR-IA’

This year’s shorts programme is inspired by the political act of being a woman. Yes, something as simple and ordinary as that is a type of activism, seen as a provocation or license to oppress in many contexts, ages, social class, across cultures and geographies. In so many parts of the world, including very close to home, girls and women have to try every day not to be coerced, exploited, abused, raped or murdered. Why is that so? And aren’t we all complicit in the silence, therefore sustaining the status quo? I don’t understand why there is such little enthusiasm today to describe yourself as a feminist. I understand it to mean that all genders are equal and should be treated equally in law, life and love.

Growing up in a household of women, a mother and two older sisters, and a father mostly at work, women’s voices, presence and their value was something inherent in my upbringing. Women have always featured strongly in my life: at school, college and university. I became an uncle to my first niece when I was just 23 years old who’s just been helping me organise my wedding. And my mother’s now a large presence in my life as she ages.

As a gay Asian man, I’ve experienced homophobia and racism, nothing extraordinary, probably ordinarily average. However, not belonging to the straight club in a patriarchal world has also enabled me to enter spaces not ordinarily available to straight men. Perhaps due to a greater shared empathy with my sisters due to our respective fights to survive.

How can a cisgender man curate a programme about women: because I’m a feminist, because I think there are stories to be told and conversations to be had.

WOMAN comprises five film shorts including narrative fiction, documentary and artists film/video/spoken word.

THE FIELDSTILL FROM ‘THE FIELD’

See the trailer for ‘THE FIELD’

We open with THE FIELD, a multi-award nominee (BAFTA/BFI London Film Festival and British Independent Film Award 2018) and Shorts Cut Award Winner (Toronto International Film Festival) by writer-director Sandhya Suri. This is a beautifully crafted short set in rural Punjab in India. We follow the life of an agricultural worker who leads a double life.

CLENCHSTILL FROM ‘CLENCH’

See the trailer for ‘CLENCH’

CLENCH by award winning film director and visual artist Riffy Ahmed tells the story of Ash, a dual heritage girl from Old Trafford who ends up on the wrong side of the law, resulting in her boxing at Salford Lads’ Club. The film echoes the fractured nature of today’s identity politics among the young and old.

QANDEEL2                                        STILL FROM ‘QANDEEL’

Commissioned by the Guardian and Bertha Foundation, Saad Khan’s documentary QANDEEL examines the life, death and impact of Pakistan’s working-class icon Qandeel Baloch, killed in 2016 after becoming a social media celebrity. This compelling film analyses her life through the lens of class and power politics and connects it to women’s continuing struggle for self-expression and agency in Pakistan.

WE ARE FIRESTILL FROM ‘WE ARE FIRE’

WE ARE FIRE is a short film about Champa Pal’s resistance with the support of ‘The Gulabi Gang’ to an entrenched cultural system in Uttar Pradesh designed to give men the upper hand. The film is directed by Oscar and Emmy award-winning director Orlando von Einsiedel.

WAR-IA 2STILL FROM ‘WAR-IA’

WAR-IA embraces her true nature to draw upon the wisdom of all the mothers who came before, and those to come, unleashing her indomitable spirit. The video is inspired by the inner thoughts of Black and Asian women. It uses their voices and experiences, from the real to the imagined.  A range of states – innocence, objectification, self-doubt, rage, playfulness and survival – are depicted in the work. Written and directed by Bobby Tiwana.

The films will be followed by a post-screen discussion with filmmakers Sandhya Suri and Riffy Ahmed facilitated by me, Bobby Tiwana.

WOMANFRI 19 JUL, 7pm, BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, South Shore Road, Gateshead NE8 3BA

Tickets £5 Buy here

Ticket includes welcome drink

Spring Summer 2019 Season Launch

We launch our Spring Summer 2019 season with another exciting concert series, featuring emerging musicians to artists whose family musical history spans five centuries, with everything from Sitar and Sufi devotional music to a re-imagined String Quartet.


This season we have a special focus on dance, showcasing incredible commissions and performances that tell those untold stories. Crackle.Dust. by Company of Others, is an unveiling of women’s resilience, inspired by women of the North. Jaivant Patel’s YAATRA shares a fresh perspective on South Asian LGBTQ+ narratives, faith and spirituality; and A Thousand Faces blends Kathak dance with physical theatre and mime, subverting the imagery of Bollywood beauty and Hollywood glamour to explore the objectification of women.

For young people and families, February welcomes the return of our popular half term Mini Mela event in Gateshead, with FREE, family arts workshops including Steel Pans, Bollywood Dancing, Chinese Arts, Persian Calligraphy and more. Come along and create your own artwork to take home.

Our work with young people around the region continues with diverse arts workshops in schools and communities across the region, working with pupils of all ages and abilities.

We are very proud of our young Syrian musicians, part of our EbNE project, who have been commissioned for Poetry Despite, Music Despite, part of Aaron Hughes work for BALTIC Artists’ Award 2019. Creating their own poetry and songs as a re-imagining of Wilfred Owen’s poetry using their own experiences of war, belonging and home,  they will perform at BALTIC early February.

In April, we celebrate the culmination of our East by North East youth music project with a performance event at Sage Gateshead, recognising the achievements and talents of 170 young people from across Newcastle and Gateshead who take part in our weekly music sessions.

To find out more about our upcoming programme scroll down, and to see our full Spring Summer 2019 season visit www.gemarts.org or download your copy of the brochure here: GemArts Spring Summer 2019 brochure.

Also watch out for Masala Festival updates. Masala Festival 2019 returns from July 15 – 21st.

GemArts East by North East – Blog by music leader Izzy Finch (Nov 2018)

Here is a blog by Izzy Finch, who is one of our music leaders on GemArts’ Youth Music funded East by North East music project.  Izzy gives fantastic insight into working with young people from Syrian communities living in Gateshead to develop their musical and life skills, whilst providing a safe space for young people’s voices to be heard, develop leadership skills and for them to be empowered.   

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As project musicians, Pav and I first developed a relationship with members of this group when they had been in Gateshead less than one year whilst working on GemArts’ Dispersed Belongings project in collaboration with Durham University. Our initial sessions were based around the concept of belonging, identity and feelings of home. The participants had no previous experience of music making and we were working with an interpreter. During those early sessions we talked a lot about identity and I realised that there is a complexity of emotions surrounding belonging for most of the participants as there have been interim homes between Syria and Gateshead. Working on this project has changed my perception of not only belonging, home, identity but the value of music as a tool for discussion.

I am comfortable knowing that over time we created an environment where the participants developed trust and were invested enough to talk in depth about their aspirations for the project and were given a platform to write songs about things that were important to them. I think sometimes there is a fear when working as a music practitioner with marginalised communities that our own agenda/ expectations will interfere with the creative hopes and dreams of young people. We were careful to navigate a balance between guiding and leading, making sure participants were not exploited with the content of what they write about.

One of the first songs the group wrote is titled Syria. The lyrics to the song describe the country as their mother and Aleppo as their blood. It is a love letter to Syria. In the very beginning when we first started working together I facilitated an exercise where participants would describe colours, sounds, sights and smells of home or a significant memory. The group seemed unsure at first but soon everyone was writing in Arabic and absorbed in the task. I hadn’t prepared myself for how emotionally raw the content would be having elicited those feelings. I realised afterwards that I had expected the content to be about dislocated items or events but instead we uncovered that there is still a strong and prevalent sense of belonging to Syria and that this is something that the young people want to share and write about. One member said “I want to deliver a message to the people here about the situation in Syria” and continues to bring new lyrics in each week exploring this.

Sometimes a song idea will begin with a young person showing the group a song they like and we will begin talking about what aspects of that we like and what we will use as inspiration to create an original piece. For one song, we used Eminem- Stan as inspiration, and sampled the sound of rain to evoke emotion and used the structure of Eminem’s hit as a template with Arabic verses poetically describing a lost love and a chorus in English featuring female vocals working as a call and response.

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Our session structure changes depending on the ideas of the young people. Sometimes we all have an instrument and work as a band collectively, and other times we will use a MIDI controller and laptop to make electronic beats that vocalists want to put lyrics and a melody to. Within the current group, there are multiple song writers and the participants are self-motivated when it comes to organising their time within the session. For example, if we worked on one member’s song the previous week, they will talk amongst themselves and decide fairly that it is someone else’s turn to have their song rehearsed. New members are always welcomed and encouraged by the group to suggest ideas or lead a rehearsal. Lyrics are often in Arabic and sometimes have an English chorus with themes around the war in Syria, politics, nostalgia, love, lost love and friendship.

This year the core group are brimming with confidence and creativity. The sessions are very much participant led and we are preparing for a performance in a few months and introducing Arts Award. The group enjoy sharing and communicating their ideas in English, we rarely use the interpreter although sometimes we need one to translate lyrics and help with meaning but I l love that Arabic lyrics are a constant thread in everything we create. If new members come along and are struggling to speak English or understand what we are doing, the group enjoy interpreting and helping each other articulate their ideas.

It is a pleasure to be able to work with these young people and help them achieve self-belief and provide a creative outlet. I feel that this project has demonstrated the capacity Gem Arts have to meet the growing needs of marginalised groups within the North East.

East by North East is a Youth Music funded project led by GemArts. Building on the success of previous projects, during this third phase, we have expanded the prorgramme to provide more opportunities for professional musicians and young people living in challenging circumstances from BAMER and wider communities across Newcastle and Gateshead to work with one another, sustaining high quality music making regionally, and addressing community needs and issues.  A key element of the programme is to further diversify the music skills and workforce of music practitioners in the North East through offering CPD, training, peer to peer development and mentoring.

https://gemarts.org/projects/116/east-by-north-east