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Music

Citizens of the World Choir
18th April 2017
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For refugees, migrants, asylum seekers and their friends.

By Tess Berry-Hart.

“We are like birds when they fly and sing together. We say to the world; we are one, we are citizens of the world.” – Sonia, from Iran, choir member

“Everyone can sing!” promises our musical director, Becky Dell, to the members of the London-based Citizens of the World choir. “People are told they can’t sing when they’re younger but it’s just not true.”

Pianist Tom plays a chord on the piano and instantly the air is full of rich voices singing the Zulu folk hymn Siyahamba. The sunny rehearsal room is full of smiling people from Syria, Iraq, Iran, the UK, and from countries across Africa and Europe. “We are walking in the light of peace,” we sing, and when Becky gets us to dance and stamp our feet the atmosphere is jubilant. At the end, everyone bursts into laughter and applauds.

“You see!” cries Becky triumphantly. “Not a note out of place!”

From young and recently-arrived Middle Easterners to elder people in their 60s who escaped earlier conflicts in Africa and Asia, the choir is both united and diverse. The atmosphere is joyous, and full of hugs and embraces as members sing Scarborough Fair and What A Wonderful World. After practice and refreshments, an impromptu rap session starts up led by Kaspar King, a 24 year old rapper from Iraq, freestyling with a few of his new friends. “I love it here,” enthuses Kaspar. “I made some nice friends, and it makes me so happy as a musician that I can express my musical talent.”

A 21-year old Syrian, who does not wish to be named, is one of the members who thought he couldn’t sing, only to be agreeably surprised. He thinks that getting to know each other is essential for world peace. “I saw people that I never expected to see; people from more than 13 countries around the world. I believe that this is one of the best projects which will not only bring people from different backgrounds and religions together, but also it will open other people’s eyes to what other cultures and languages look like, to know that we all share the same blood and the same human race. “

“Choir is flying without borders,” smiles Sonia, a 32 year old from Iran. “We are like birds when they fly and sing together. We say to the world; we are one, we are citizens of the world.”

The choir is the brainchild of Lord Roger Roberts, the Liberal Democrat peer of Llandudno, created to celebrate the talents of refugees and migrants with their European friends, where people of all nationalities can sing together to combat prejudice and build bridges instead of walls. Though it started less than a month ago during a conversation with Becky Dell, founder of the Becky Dell Music Academy, it’s already had two rehearsals with around 30 people attending each time.

“Refugees bring so many talents with them,” says Roger Roberts, “So why not set up a choir to celebrate what we can do together?”

The Citizens of the World choir is open to all people, whether refugee, migrant, asylum-seeking, citizens or those still awaiting documentation. If you need help with travel expenses you can be reimbursed on the spot at rehearsals, and anonymity will be maintained if you are still awaiting a decision on your asylum application. If you’re a UK or EU citizen you’re welcome to bring along anyone you think might benefit or you can come and sing in support yourself.

With performances lined up at Parliament on the 20th June, and regional musical events this summer including the Llangollen Eisteddfod on the 8th July, Kasper has even greater ambitions. “Maybe we can go on Britain’s Got Talent!” he grins. For these citizens, the world is their oyster.

Follow the Citizens of the World choir on @CitizensOfTheWorldChoir on Facebook and @COTWchoir on Twitter for rehearsal times and performance schedule.

If you have any questions or need information in other languages, please email Neil Walker at citizensoftheworldchoir@gmail.com or telephone 07920 263465

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Photos: Emerson Utracik