Cultural Protection Fund: Bettany Hughes meets young Syrian refugees learning traditional music

Cultural Protection Fund: Bettany Hughes meets young Syrian refugees learning traditional music


Over seven years, six million refugees have fled
the devastation in Syria. Children make up more than
a third of that number. Many have witnessed horrifying tragedies, but even in the grimmest of circumstances,
there is hope. I’ve been invited to the
Beqaa Valley in Lebanon to meet some extraordinary
young refugee musicians who are being given
a once in a lifetime chance to perform in Lebanon’s capital, Beirut. Music helps me forget all the misery
I have experienced back home, in Syria. Music is the secret of life. Every time I hold my instrument
I’m so happy I could die. Where I’m driving now has been described as one of the
most beautiful places on earth. It was a breadbasket
of the Roman Empire, and it’s been home to some of the
world’s very greatest civilizations. But, over the last few years, it’s also seen the passage of
over a million Syrian refugees, and half of those are children, and many of them are
very, very traumatized. I’m just a few minutes from
the Syrian border here, and Damascus is just beyond me over those mountains. But this is a little cultural centre, The Action for Hope Cultural Center, where kids and young people come from camps right
across the country every weekend, to learn music. This music school is run by Action for Hope, and funded by the British Council’s
Cultural Protection Fund. Here, musicians and volunteers teach traditional Syrian music
to refugee communities. Thank you.
Would you like to see the school? I would love to. Thank you. I have seen some kids. How many do you have here?
How many students? 24. And they come every weekend?
– Yeah. Well, I can hear some drumming obviously, but what else do
you teach them here? Saxophone, singing, old bouzouki,
or tambour and cello, violin. I know some of the kids here
have had a very tough time… Yeah. …before they came. I mean does it help them coming here,
do you think? Yeah, I think they’re very happy here. The organizers believe that teaching traditional Syrian music is a powerful tool to combat trauma, whilst ensuring cultural heritage isn’t lost. Heba, the music school
ensemble’s drummer, never misses a beat. When someone asks me to
play for them I feel famous because I make them happy. It helps me think about the future. Thank you. Heba’s house is in fact, a plastic hut. Her family are desperate to
return home to Damascus, but feel it’s still not safe. Oh, lovely, lovely to see you. Should I take my shoes off? Instead like many, makeshift camps have become
a semi-permanent home. But, involvement in the music school
is benefiting this whole family. Was music a big part of your life then? Back home we enjoyed music
at weddings and parties. But here Heba has a musical instrument and is
learning rhythm and the musical arts. Our relationship to music has
become much more intimate. Do you think music can help to
bring lots of people together as a society, as a community? Before Heba enrolled in the music school,
our circle of acquaintances was extremely narrow. Just a few people and only inside the camp. But when she started going there,
we started knowing other kids and their parents. Access to Syrian music connects these communities to a culture that they’ve had to leave behind. Learning music restores a sense of
self-worth, belonging, and identity, as well as introducing young
people to a profession that might be of practical benefit in the future. Thank you, shukraan.
Bye, Heba, see you. Bye. Well, what an extraordinary privilege
to be welcomed into that home, but isn’t it just heartbreaking that the one thing that Heba and her mum, and her sister, and her little siblings want to do is to go back home, and see their loved ones. Home is just there. You can see it’s just
beyond the mountains, but they know that they can’t
get back there safely. But at least they think
that music is something that they’ve taken from this experience. It’s one tiny, tiny fragment
of a silver lining. I’m going back to the music school to listen more closely to the traditional
Syrian music and theory the students are eager to
learn every weekend. These young people are
from different places. Most are Syrians, some Lebanese from
the areas of the Beqaa, and some Palestinian refugees
from camps in Beirut. What they have in common
is their love for music. It’s this which brings a
sense of focus and unity in what is for some
a splintered existence. This is Ibrahim from Aleppo in Syria. He’s been learning the accordion
for two years, helping him to overcome the trauma of losing close family
relatives during the war. Hi, sorry, sorry to interrupt. Hi. That sounds fantastic, Ibrahim. Beautiful! Amazing! When I play, I imagine there is a crowd listening. Like suddenly nothing else exists
for me but the music. Wow! Do you want to carry on playing the
accordion when you return home? My parents want me to continue
music and never leave it, ever and I think music is the
most powerful weapon. Do you think coming here and learning
about the beauty of music, does that give you more hope for the future? For the first few months I started to learn,
music was suddenly all I could think about. So it made me forget everything else. Music allows people to dance
and join us in singing. Well, thank you for bringing us the music. It’s beautiful. It certainly makes us very happy. Ibrahim, thank you.
Shukraan, shukraan. Music plays a huge part in
Abdelkader’s young life. For him, music isn’t only
a reminder of home, it is home. When I was young, back in Syria, I was four or five, I saw my dad grab an instrument and play it. I was watching his hands. I started imitating him
and I said I want to learn it. Abdelkader often plays with his father, Ayman. He wants him to remember that music from their homeland is
some of the oldest in recorded history. Hello! Hello!
– Hello! Welcome.
– How lovely. Welcome.
– Thank you so much. How are you?
– I’m very well. How are you? I’m Ayman.
– Ayman. Bettany, Bettany. Hello.
– Thank you. Hello, again. Hi, how you doing? You look really smart. You look fantastic. We escaped a very painful reality
and I was forced to save my children. There were a lot of people dying,
especially in our neighbourhood. We saw death with our own eyes
and we saw people lying on the street. So I tried to make sure my children survived,
that was the most important thing. Do you think it helped your family, as well, the fact that your family
are all musicians too? Do you think it helped your son
and your other children? I tried through music, to bring
our family closer, all together, so to speak and together make a beautiful ensemble,
one with deep emotions and compassion. And it has helped them immensely
to overcome what they felt back there. They were small children at the time, and now they
have grown and managed to forget that calamity. Music helps one forget. Do you find if you ever feel sad,
or stressed yourself, does it make you more happy
as well to play your music and certainly, to live in
the world of music? Absolutely. To me, music is the soul. And I have been attached to it
and fond of it since I was little. I love the Tabla, which I am learning
right now, and I am very happy. Every time I hold my instrument,
I’m so happy I could die. Ah, that’s right. I know.
It’s a very beautiful thing. On a Friday night back in Beirut, it’s time for the school’s ensemble to showcase their skills
in front of a live audience. The event is part of an arts festival, and our young musicians have
been given a primetime slot. For some, this promises to be a
once in a lifetime opportunity to show their talents to the world. We are the Jawab ensemble from the
Action for Hope music school. We are going to start with a little song. And after that, there will be many songs
that I hope you will like and give us big applause for. Well done. Well done. That was fantastic. That was quite something. You’ve got a bunch of kids a
very long way from home performing in an abandoned
factory in downtown Beirut to a whole crowd that
they’ve never met before, and giving them
the time of their lives. If that doesn’t tell you
about the power of music, I don’t know what does. These children have endured
one of the most brutal of wars, and witnessed things in their
short lives that few adults ever will. No one can know
what their future holds, but at least now there is a chance
that music will be a part of it.

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