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City of Sanctuary-inspired choir to perform during Refugee Week 2019

Following a successful crowdfunding campaign, a Durham based refugee-led music project is touring the UK this year. Their first stop is Yorkshire for Refugee Week, visiting Sheffield’s Migration Matters Festival on June 22nd and the University of Hull on June 23rd

Stories of Sanctuary showcases poignant songs written and performed by those with experience of seeking sanctuary, bringing together singers and musicians from different cultures and traditions.

Stories of Sanctuary is a community songwriting project which emerged out of friendships between Durham residents and Syrian refugees out of their local City of Sanctuary group, Durham City of Sanctuary. The choir perform songs, stories and poetry about their experiences and their hopes for the future, many of which were written by the choir members themselves in a series of songwriting workshops in the summer of 2018.

The group is coordinated by singer-songwriter Sam Slatcher and includes viola player Raghad Haddad, who was a member of the National Syrian Orchestra, as well as Syrian poet Hasna Al Hassoun, and several Durham residents. Alongside the more experienced performers are people who had never sung in front of an audience before the project, but who are fast developing their performing skills and are excited to embark this year on a national tour.

Syrian National Orchestra’s Raghad Haddad performing with the choir at Durham Cathedral. Credit: Simone J Rudolphi

Sabah, a member of the choir and the recently-appointed tour coordinator talks of her experience singing in Durham Cathedral earlier in the year:

“Music is the language of the world. When I was singing I felt every word I sang. I sang from my heart to all the hearts of the audience. I wanted to tell them that despite pain and sadness, we are brave because sometimes you just need to hope and have faith that things will work out”

Stories of Sanctuary launched their songs to a sold out audience in Chapter House at Durham Cathedral in October 2018 and have since performed at several venues across the North East.

This month, the group will close Sheffield’s Migration Matters Festival on June 22nd and the University of Hull on June 23rd. These performances are part of Refugee Week 2019, a UK-wide festival of arts, cultural and educational events, celebrating the contribution of refugees to the UK and promoting a better understanding of why people seek sanctuary.

In August 2019, Stories of Sanctuary visits International Festival of Glass in Stourbridge and Leicester Cathedral as part of the Journeys Festival.

The idea for the tour came when the choir were invited to perform their songs in the Houses of Parliament, at City of Sanctuary’s national event Sanctuary in Parliament in November 2018. Over Christmas 2018, the group of 20 raised £5500 online (and a further £2000 offline) through a successful crowdfunding campaign to enable them to tour this year. The choir have also professionally recorded an album with Arts Council funding.

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