Novel Voices Refugee Aid Project
From August 12th to October 1st, 2019, we launched #50Days4Refugees - a social media campaign which walked through our year of travels with the Novel Voices Refugee Aid Project from start to finish. During the campaign we released a single story/image/clip a day in order to give our followers the chance to virtually travel with us, meeting and engaging with the people, places, life-stories, cultures, music, and organizations we encountered along the way.
The posts below can help you trace our steps through our year of travels and learn about the activities, strengths and specific needs of the organizations we partnered with - along with what we learned about ways anyone anywhere can get involved.
(CLICK HERE for our final BONUS post of #50Days4Refugees: an interactive map of the United States through which anyone across America can find information on the numerous refugee-aid organizations doing incredible work all around the country.)
New York / New Jersey
“The United Nations”
The path of bringing this project to life ended up being a unique mixture of blood, sweat and tears - often feeling like every fiber of the world around us was resisting any tiny step ahead, relentlessly attempting to hold us back - together with shockingly uplifting moments of almost absurd amounts of support just dropped on us out of the blue.
One of these absurd moments came when we received a call from the Assistant General Secretary at the United Nations and International Affairs asking if we would like to come speak about our Novel Voices Refugee Aid Project and perform a concert inspired by the 10 Acts for the Global Compact on Refugees and Migrants, in celebration of the 70th Anniversary of the Declaration of Human Rights in NYC (to which we said - YES!!!!!!). Having the chance to perform for and later speak with and get to know an audience filled with NGO’s from around the world - all doing much-needed work in the world of refugees - lifted our hearts and spirits, and proved also to be very useful in connecting us with a support system for the various unexpected needs that popped up throughout the remainder of our year of travels (such as calling up HER ROYAL HIGHNESS Elizabeth of the Danish-German royalty to help us find a Danish-Arabic-English translator last-minute from her castle on the Baltic Sea… - Whaaaaaaa????!!! YUP! That really happened!!!! We’re still picking our jaws up off the ground a year later after that one!). It was quite heartening and encouraging to know that we were connected to a network of humans doing beautiful things all around the world every moment of every day - ready at a moment’s notice to jump to one another’s aid.
Today’s clip is taken from our closing selection from that evening’s performance at the United Nations: a meditative excerpt taken from the “Quartet for the End of Time” - a piece written by Olivier Messaien while he was imprisoned in a German POW camp during the Second World War. Rather than close this concert with a standard and expected rousing or virtuosic final selection, we instead chose to end with a contemplative musical prayer which blended both Messaien’s dreams of a more just society in a time after the end of Time, together with the injunction of the 10th Act in the Global Compact on Refugees and Migrants - which seeks to one day build a rights-based world which eliminates the reasons behind humans becoming refugees, and one which offers the possibility of free, voluntary, protected, transparent, and accountable global migration.
If you would like to peruse the list of organizations who offered us their support and shared their mission with us at this concert, please visit the Novel Voices website www.novelvoices.org/organizations to learn more.
One of the goals of this project was to immerse ourselves in and learn from all of the different types of music we came in contact with along our journey. These little musical glimpses into other cultures served as the inspiration for the project’s commissioned work Novel Voices by our project’s composer, Fernando Arroyo Lascurain (coming out soon on our Novel Voices album!).
Please enjoy this clip of our new friends, the Ramazanis, singing a song from their native country: Congo. We had a blast breaking apart the rhythms in this song during our musical workshop, in order to build an entirely new rhythmic piece by overlapping and clapping the different rhythms simultaneously and polyphonically. (And let it be known: the Ramazanis put these conservatory-trained musicians to shame with their complex rhythmic abilities!!)
“Mkimbizi [refugee in Swahili]”
The Democratic Republic of Congo is notoriously known as the “Rape Capital of the World,” where the prevalence and intensity of all forms of sexual violence has been described as the worst on our planet. In the US report on Human Rights Practices, the DRC was reported as a country where security forces and numerous armed groups continue to kill, abduct, torture, and rape civilians, and burn and destroy villages. The security forces and armed groups continue to use sexual violence with impunity as weapons of war and to humiliate and punish victims, families, and communities.
Numerous people are fleeing the country for these many reasons. Nestor shared with us the road they had to take in order to arrive to the US. We will be sharing more about the Congo conflicts in our future posts related to the work of RefuSHE - another non-profit we are partnering with who provides incredible help to refugee girls and women fleeing Congo and the surrounding countries into Kenya.
Securing translators at each of the locations we visited in order to ensure our thoughts and workshop ideas were communicated clearly across multiple languages was just one of the many challenges we faced along the way… After our originally-appointed translator had a last-minute change of plans, finding a Swahili translator in New Jersey for our Novel Voices workshop on Oct. 4th, was close to impossible. We were almost a whole hour into our #RAP workshop when Regina, a NJ resident originally from Kenya, arrived to save the day - rescuing us from our embarrassing efforts of speaking French, gesturing and acting, in an attempt to relay the story of Romeo and Juliet across three languages!
“Lost in Translation”
Here’s another hilarious clip of us attempting to explain Romeo and Juliet through gestures and giggles. Through this hour-long (and frustrating!) experience of not being able to understand or speak the same language, we got a tiny taste of how our new refugee friends must feel when starting their new lives in a new country: trapped in a new existence of not being able to understand anything and not able to explain or express themselves fully to others around them.
“Quick facts: Regina from Kenya”
Regina’s stupendous Swahili-English translating skills were an indispensable part of our workshop with Refugee Assistance Partners in Elizabeth, NJ.
Regina goes to school as a full-time student on top of working at a hospital for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities at Arc of Essex County, and spends her spare time translating for refugees in her church in NJ
Regina immigrated to the US from Kenya in 2003.
Regina loves pop music and listens to Swahili songs to remind her of her native Kenya.
We fell in love with Regina within seconds of meeting her and we’re sure you will too after watching this video!
In every musical workshop we offered in each location we visited throughout this project, we crafted our activities around the concept of story-telling - be it our own stories and experiences and/or what stories the music inspired in our own imaginations...or the stories of the composers themselves and what was happening in their lives at the time that might have inspired them to write their music...or extra-musical stories that the composer specifically hoped to portray through his/her composition... or the stories behind the music our participants presented to us... OR sometimes even the story-telling inherent in the underlying structures of the compositions we were playing: such as what classical musicians call “sonata form.”
In our workshop with the Refugee Assistance Partners in Elizabeth, NJ, we had a wonderful time walking through how the underlying sonata-form structure of Rebecca Clarke’s Viola Sonata can actually tell the refugee story just like a musical novel. In it, we meet two distinctly different characters in the beginning (“First and Second Themes in the exposition” - for all you classical music-ers out there!); they travel through a difficult time or place and become broken, pushed around, and portrayed in many fragmented and almost not-recognizable ways (“development”); but then the two characters return “home” and discover that they have been changed but are in the end more grounded and stronger for their journeys - and are often bound together inextricably after passing through those difficult times (“recapitulation”).
We were thrilled to hear from our friend Nestor Ramazani that this experience of learning about the story of sonata form was a particularly enjoyable moment for him during the workshop. We hope you enjoy his reactions and smiles as much as we do! :)
“The First Preacher is someone who sings!”
Launching into this project, we all expected to be confronted by sights, stories, and experiences that would challenge us and our own perceptions of the world - and so each of us prepared our hearts and minds in our own ways for the inevitable difficult and dark moments we were certain to encounter in each visit. BUT WHAT DIDN’T EXPECT or prepare ourselves for was encountering the sheer, radiant, contagious JOY and positivity which simply beamed from some of those we met on our way - like our new friend Chuk Antoinette from the Democratic Republic of Congo. From the moment we met Antoinette, her overwhelming warmth, and generous, caring, and loving spirit punched straight through any and all language barriers and left us each with something to remember and try to live up to in our own lives daily.
Chuk Antoinette is the mother of 5 children and the grandmother of 2 grandchildren and constantly lets everyone around her know of her gratitude for the good things in her life. Although she has struggled with not being able to communicate in fluent English with new friends in America (as well as with the cold weather!), no one who meets her has a doubt of the kind of person she is. We were very moved and inspired by Antoinette!
“Janette and Honesfor”
Janette and her brother Honesfor are friends who we made right away during our workshop in New Jersey and they still keep in touch regularly. Here are some fun facts about them:
Janette loves singing and gospel music. She is one of the main lead singers in her Church and you have heard her already lead her whole family in prayer-song
She also loves dancing!
Her dream job is becoming an obstetrician
Honesfor loves studying! He dreams of going to college and studying to be a doctor, and specifically a neurosurgeon
He also has a very lively and positive spirit who is kind and generous to everyone!
“Music is a Universal Language” is a phrase that musicians tend to throw around a lot - and as a result it is a phrase that we also often take for granted, losing touch with the meaning and power behind the words. One of the benefits of living this project was being able to witness first-hand what this phrase really means. As our wonderful translator from our workshop with the Refugee Assistance Partners, Regina, says here in this clip: we desperately needed her translating services anytime verbal speech was involved in our workshop - without her, our thoughts would have been forever hopelessly lost in translation! But the moment our workshop participants began to sing for us, or we began to play our instruments for or together with them - everything became immediately understood. Messages filled with raw emotion, life experience, hope, deep sadness, exuberant joy, delight, and just simple fun - all leaped across the language barriers in the room and spoke with more clarity and openness than an hour of attempted translated text could ever offer… yes, indeed, music is truly a “Universal Language.” We’ve seen it! It was a joy to “musically converse” with our new friends from Congo and Kenya!
“Honesfor’s first piano experience”
Today we would like to share a fun little moment we had with our new friend Honesfor from Congo. In each workshop we offered throughout our visits, we chose to leave a little time toward the end for a few one-on-one instrument lessons. In this clip we captured a few minutes of Honesfor’s very first piano lesson - in which he learned the basic 5-finger pattern for the piano and then played with Fernando an improvised piece using that pattern. We also learned a little something in this piano lesson, too: how to count our basic 5-finger pattern in Swahili! :D We learned... “moja, mbili, tatu, nne, tano” - which means, “one, two, three, four, five.” :)
“Refugee Assistance Partners”
In each of the locations we visited over the past year, we had the opportunity to collaborate with a local refugee-aid organization. In Elizabeth, NJ, our collaborating partner was the Refugee Assistance Partners. Jill Segulin, the President of RAP, grew this grass-roots organization from the ground up after witnessing the horrific media stories of the washed-up bodies of Syrian refugees attempting to escape via sea, feeling it was “a moral imperative to do something more than just thoughts and prayers!” RAP exists to take refugees under their wing and aid in the resettlement process past the initial 90 days which the International Rescue Committee can offer. What this looks like is often working together with the refugee families to simply find furnishing for their apartments, to drive them to the bank, or to the doctor or grocery store, to help with English lessons or tutoring for the children.... And most importantly, to simply offer care, kindness, and a “welcome home” to a fellow human often painfully in need of it!
In today’s clips, you can meet Jill as she shares what her organization exists to do and what each one of US can do to help them continue their work as well! (Which is sometimes, as Jill shares, as simple as just making a potato salad - or simply sharing the normalcy of an everyday activity.)
Part I - What does RAP do?
Part II - What can we do?
“Refugee Assistance Partners’ NEEDS!”
We have a bonus post today!! One of the questions we get the most from people when we tell them about our #NovelVoices Refugee Aid Project is “so what can I do to help?” - Well for those of you living in NYC or in/around NJ, here is a very specific, clear answer. Refugee Assistance Partners is in need of school uniforms and used cars. If you or someone you know is able to contribute, please write Jill Segulin
With this we come to a close of our NY/NJ portion of our travels. See you soon in LA!!
DAY 25 BONUS POST: RefuSHE
We decided to take this side step to recognize another organization which deserves to be known and supported! This is RefuSHE (www.refushe.org) - they are the first and only organization that serves East Africa’s most vulnerable refugees – orphaned and separated refugee girls in Nairobi, Kenya. The young women in RefuSHE's programs have been separated and orphaned due to war, conflict, violence, and terrorism. The organization created a one-of-a-kind community for young, refugee women to learn, grow, and become leaders in their own right. Their holistic model strives to provide a safe house, education, case management, community outreach, advocacy and economic independence. Through their Artisan Collective they teach young women to express themselves creatively while acquiring marketable skills that empower them to become economically self-sufficient. The girls learn to make beautiful scarves and dresses and you will be seeing two of their dresses on the Carnegie Hall stage worn by Molly and Anna!
Click here to read a very inspiring story of one of the girls helped by RefuSHE.