Over the weekend of 28 – 29th June 2019, Citizen Songwriters partnered with performance artist Natasha Davis and ARC Stockton to produce ‘Welcome Town’, an art installation engaging members of the public around themes of welcome for those seeking protection from war and conflict.
Sam Slatcher from Citizen Songwriters brought together participants from a series of workshops he facilitated in Stockton over May and June 2019 to perform impromptu songs of welcome.
One of the songs documented the story of Bahkit, someone seeking sanctuary from the war in Sudan.
In My Mother Tongue
my heart I say hello, can you hear me, I don’t know. Why would you? You don’t
Winds were blow’n when I arrived, I didn’t want to go outside. I stayed at home
for a week.
Suitcase in the corridor, someone is moving in next door. He’s asking me which
language do I speak.
I told him in my mother tongue I told him just how far I’d come.
He said “Oh you’re my brother” and he
Hello, you’re smiling!
Why are you smiling?
Because smiling is beautiful
I look up to you, you saw the sun before I knew. You’ve walk these streets,
you’ve heard it’s tune. You say to me, you have to seek all these
opportunities. It could break you, you warned me.
You say that there’ll always be, a banquet for us all to eat. A cup of tea, the
first thing when you rise.
You’re speaking in my mother tongue, you’ve been walking with me all along.
You said “Oh you’re my brother” with those kind eyes.
Speaking in my Mother Tongue is a song inspired by Bakhit’s story, including some of his own words. Bakhit who comes from Sudan, like many others seeking sanctuary from war, found himself alone in Stockton with no choice but to live in a shared house. To his surprise, his neighbour – also seeking sanctuary – greeted him in the same language (Arabic) despite coming from a different continent. His neighbour became a brother to him, someone he looks up to, to help navigate through this unfamiliar new landscape. This is what ‘Welcome Town’ means for Bakhit.
Most people don’t realise their creative potential.
Something I’ve come to realise since becoming a freelance community songwriting facilitator, is that people are inherently creative. But don’t always realise it… Yet, when you give people the excuse to create something uniquely theirs, the magic happens!
Last Thursday (16th May 2019) I met with a new group on a Citizen Songwriters course, in partnership with Middlesbrough Stronger Communities. It was one of a number I’ll be facilitating this summer and within the two hours, the group had found their collective voice and were singing “We are Boro” in different languages to a catchy tune that one of the participants had come up with.
Citizen Songwriters is a new initiative that grew out of a project I started last year called Stories ofSanctuary. bringing together people who have sought sanctuary from the civil war in Syria, with their local community. What’s unique about Citizen Songwriters is giving ordinary people – not necessarily with a music background – the excuse to create something uniquely theirs.
The song that emerges in each workshop is of course entirely dependent on the group and the stories they wish to share. My role is to facilitate and if I do my job well, it often involves leading from the back. I might be picking out chords that seem to fit the tune that the group have come up with. Or in some cases – like in Middlesbrough last week – someone from the group might know a few chords and I’ll encourage them to lay something down to give the group something to work with.
Stories of Sanctuary began in this way. And 9 months later, the participants were on the stage singing not only a song they’d learnt and practiced, but one they’d actually written themselves.
Citizen Songwriters is all about helping diverse groups explore their roots, understand different stories of belonging and allowing ordinary people realising their extraordinary creativity.
If you or your organisation would be interested in hosting a Citizen Songwriters course, please e-mail us here, or sign up to receive regular updates on upcoming courses and opportunities.
Stories of Sanctuary workshop in Durham, July 2018.