In September at a concert in Turin, lead singer of U2, Bono called for “humanitarian leadership” in response to Europe’s refugee crisis. Whilst Europe’s leaders have been discussing solutions; musicians have also made a concerted effort to raise awareness of the plight of refugees and to give them some pleasure through music.
It was unfortunate that in the wake of the terrorist attacks in Paris this November, Spanish viol player and conductor Jordi Savall had to make the decision to postpone a concert. He was due to perform at the ‘Calais Together’ event with his ensemble Hespèrion XXI on 17th December at the refugee camp in Calais. His safety and the safety of his musicians couldn’t be guaranteed amid fears of unrest, however the event will take place by the Spring.
The Yehudi Menuhin School is also due to perform for refugees in Calais. On 20th January students and staff will work with volunteers at the ‘Jungle’ to distribute food parcels before performing a concert for around 6,000 refugees. The school hopes that it won’t just be a one off event and that they will return to Calais. The project is very much in line with Menuhin’s vision of the relationship the school should have with the outside world.
In October a demonstration and concert took place in Vienna to show solidarity with refugees in Europe, it featured the German punk band ‘Die Toten Hosen’, ‘Conchita Wurst’ and a speech by Austrian President Heinz Fischer. In London this November, Paloma Faith joined forces with Peace for a concert to raise money for Help Refugees; these are just two concerts among many throughout Europe. Rap singer M.I.A. released a track ‘Borders’, which charts the journey of refugees across Europe and criticises governments for not doing enough.
Perhaps the most extraordinary case of music raising awareness of the refugee crisis, is Syrian rock band Khebez Dawle, who made their journey from Lebanon to Germany fun by performing gigs along the way. Syria offered the group no hope of a career in music so they sold their instruments to pay smugglers to get them across the Mediterranean. Through their music, they aim to tell the stories of desperate migrants looking for refuge.
These musicians are aware of the power of their music and the hope and comfort it can offer to people with nothing else left. Some of these events have political undertones, whilst some aim to raise awareness of the plight of refugees on a purely humanitarian level. With the Yehudi Menuhin school’s concert in Calais in January and Jordi Savall’s soon to follow, the New Year could bring new hope. We often feel helpless in the face of such crises but whilst governments battle with big decisions, musicians are sharing their music and working according to Yehudi Menhin’s ethos of supporting minority communities.