Musicians Without Borders - War Divides, Music Connects » Connecting Through Music: Music Making in Europe

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Posts Tagged ‘music workshop’

Connecting Through Music: Music Making in Europe

As we wrap up 2018, enjoy 6 different powerful stories on our programs, the day-to-day challenges we face, and how we use music to transform lives. Our fourth story comes from Anna Swinkels, Program Manager of Welcome Notes Europe.


by Anna Swinkels


I began volunteering at the Musicians Without Borders office in 2015, right around the time when the refugee ‘crisis’ was beginning to be more apparent in The Netherlands, due to the rising number of people seeking refuge in Holland.


With a desire to ‘do something’, I began dedicating some of my time to supporting MWB, who was also in the midst of the conversation about what specific steps they could take to make a concrete difference with refugees in The Netherlands. This conversation is what sparked Welcome Notes – an MWB program that trains musicians on MWB’s methodology to facilitate inclusive music workshops in emergency asylum seeker’s centers. As part of the initial working group for the program, it was only natural that I later became the Welcome Notes Program Manager.


Throughout 2016 we trained several groups of people and organized over 40 music workshops in emergency centers throughout the Netherlands. During that same year, due to the changing political landscape, the number of people entering the Netherlands decreased and emergency centers shut down. As a result, MWB changed the focus for the Welcome Notes program and began working in other European regions like Italy, Greece, and Bosnia-Herzegovina.


Rap was not an initial part of the Welcome Notes program. You could say it happened naturally and was inspired by the participants themselves. During one of the workshops in the Netherlands one of the participants was a rapper and during a songwriting session, he performed his rap, which created a unique special moment during the workshop. It wasn’t until later when we were invited by SOS Children’s Villages to provide a workshop for a group of UASC (Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children) in Italy that the rap workshops began to take form.


The group in Italy consisted of young men between the ages of 14-18 years old. In order to better connect with the young men, we decided to revolve the workshop around rhythm, percussion, and rap. It was such a big success, that afterward, we worked on including a rap component within the Welcome Notes program. Since rap had already been used in our Palestine Program, we chose to continue working with MWB Trainers Manu van Kersbergen and Guus van der Steen, and headed to Italy and then Greece to conduct 2 more rap workshops with groups of UASC.


With Welcome Notes turning 3 years old in 2019, we plan on expanding the program to Bosnia-Herzegovina. By collaborating with organizations that support the growing number of refugees on the ‘Balkan Route’, we hope to train musicians to run music workshops here. We also plan to organize rap workshop programs in Italy and Greece and continue our commitment to empowering young people affected by war.



Support our work in Europe today. Your donations, big and small, help us deliver programs that impact thousands of people every day. Donate today and become a friend for just €5 a month!



Connecting Through Music: Music Making in Kigali

As we wrap up 2018, enjoy 6 different powerful stories on our programs, the day-to-day challenges we face, and how we use music to transform lives. Our third story comes from Chris Nicholson, Program Manager of Rwanda Youth Music.


by Chris Nicholson


Graduation Day


One hand is clutching a headphone to his ear, and the other is clutching the shoulder of a colleague. They are both laughing over what song to play next. I’m shaking hands with a newly graduating Community Music Leader as I give them their certificate. Sat around a small amphitheater are 200 children and parents who have been singing, dancing, drumming and playing all morning. Our audience is applauding and cheering every music leader who comes up on to the stage to graduate. Yves and his colleague are choosing the music that accompanies us, giving rhythm to all our movements; making this a celebration.


A growing smell of food adds to the excitement. After the certificate ceremony, we’ll eat together. Music will continue with performances by a hip-hop dance group, and then a drumming and dancing group.


Espoir hands me the microphone to announce the name of the next graduate. He thinks there’s no way I’ll manage to pronounce it. He’s right. So much laughter and Yves turns up the music to boost the energy level again. Everyone’s up and dancing, and the young woman who comes on stage to collect her certificate takes her moment to join in and enjoy her recognition. She’s from a local center for former street children. It’s been a journey to get here. She can take all the time she wants.


In the lull that follows, Yves is out from his DJ position, joking with Espoir. They call out the name of the next graduate together, the music goes up, and they move to the front of the stage to welcome another young woman. The children watching give an extra cheer. This is a young woman from the village who everyone knows. Her charisma and musicianship make her an easy leader, and there’s a swagger as she moves across the stage now picking up on the Congolese rumba beat. The music program that Yves runs here has supported her development, and her participation in this Musicians Without Borders training will enable her to start leading more music activities for children in the community. She doesn’t stop dancing as she takes her certificate and poses for a photo.


From Volunteers to Trainers

Yves and Espoir keep dancing too. Over four years ago, they both began volunteering with Musicians Without Borders partner program in Rwanda. Now they are Musicians Without Borders trainers, and have just led their first full training programme. The level of the graduates is outstanding, the atmosphere amongst the trainees and with the community is supportive and positive. Their work here is beautiful and I see its impact. It’s been a journey to get here.


As we eat lunch, a social worker from the center for former street children tells me a few heart-breaking stories of the children who are now dancing hip-hop on stage. An all women’s drumming and dance troupe closes out the event.


In 2011 Musicians Without Borders was invited to partner with WE-ACTx for Hope and together we began the Rwanda Youth Music program. The aim was to embed musical approaches into community support work, in a way that suited cultural contexts and that was always informed by community members and Rwandan musicians. Today there’s time to celebrate what that has become, and the possibilities of what it can become.


I’m heading back to the airport this afternoon, three hours drive from here back to Kigali. Shyaka, who manages the program in Rwanda, will drive me, and we will share all our ideas and plans for the future. Tonight, the older graduates and training team have an “after party” planned. They’ve all chipped in to extend this great moment of celebration.


Support our work in Rwanda today. Your donations, big and small, help us deliver programs that impact thousands of people every day. Donate today and become a friend for just €5 a month!



Connecting Through Music: Music Making in Suchitoto

As we wrap up 2018, enjoy 6 different powerful stories on our programs, the day-to-day challenges we face, and how we use music to transform lives. Our second story comes from Miguel Ortega, Program Manager of Soy Música


by Miguel Ortega

“We are born with creativity, we just need the space to develop it. It doesn’t matter if it’s perfect, but if we feel creative, we should be able to create something without fear or complex. Soy Música is such a positive learning for me, that after being in the workshops, I try to put it into practice at all times, with my family, friends, neighbors. This helps me to be a better person. Just open our minds and make a change in our lives.” Soy Música trainee, 2018


Working in places like El Salvador, we find ourselves, many times, in environments and communities where music has never been introduced before. Last February, the town of Suchitoto, was one of these places. Suchitoto has lived through the worst of the El Salvadoran civil war, it is presently a town that is striving to become a national cultural point of reference.


Arriving for our 3rd week of training with Soy Música program, with 35 teachers and facilitators, our aim was to encourage the trainees and participants to embrace creativity, while ensuring we rid ourselves of prejudgements and attitudes; our main focus was to empower the group to work together to tell their story through song.
It was our third time at this particular school in Suchitoto. Like many schools in the area, there was no music program, for many of the children, this would be their first musical experience. We opened a door to creativity and the students were quick to catch on, enthusiastically creating lyrics, melodies, and movements that told a story.


In a society that is still suffering from the effects of civil war conflicts, we know the importance of not only creating a space where the children are able to unleash their creativity but space where they can feel heard. Soy Música aims to bring social change and break the cycle of violence in the whole territory of El Salvador. Beginning with the teachers, we create spaces for creation, understanding and connection, space where our trainees are empowered to go through a personal change and later bring that change to others.


Support our work in El Salvador today. Your donations, big and small, help us deliver programs that impact thousands of people every day. Donate today and become a friend for just €5 a month!



Connecting Through Music: Music Making in Dura

As we wrap up 2018, enjoy 6 different powerful stories on our programs, the day-to-day challenges we face, and how we use music to transform lives. Our first story comes from Fabienne van Eck, Palestine Community Music Program Manager who shares a story about music making in Dura.


by Fabienne van Eck

Working in a place like Palestine confronts us with many daily challenges; it’s easy to be swallowed by the obstacles and forget why we are doing this work. Most areas we work in are isolated, and occasionally, we find ourselves working with schools that initially need to be convinced by the Headmistress, that music making will indeed serve their students. It’s these isolated areas that prove to be the most rewarding for our music workshops; not only do the children end with happy smiling faces, but the teachers have also requested that we conduct music workshops with them. Our workshop in Dura is an example where the school and teachers not only requested a music workshop, but also requested training on how to conduct the workshops themselves.


Honest Communication


Initially invited by the Red Crescent Society in Dura to give a workshop to 30 children and youth with special needs, we arrived to the workshop and found a group of children, ages 4 to 20, with varying special needs. Some children were able to talk and sing, and accompanied by the teachers and caretakers, we formed a circle. Beginning with some body percussion, to warm up, and also to gauge the possibilities of the group, we added new movements to the warm up routine, all inspired directly by the movements the children themselves were making.

While some groups copy your movements and sounds exactly, it’s truly refreshing to work with groups who do not imitate you, but incorporate their own movements or variations of movements. However, one aspect of these workshops that make it extra special, is that most of the children are not very vocal, so the communication takes place on another, more direct, deeper level. While words can get in the way of true and honest communication, these participants can show us directly if they like something or not. The contact is made through the music.


Speaking the Same Language


With a group of children with special needs, no ‘extra’ communication tools are available. The group is free from communication tools created by society or culture, which is what makes workshops like these extra rewarding. For example, when we play a dancing game, everyone is focused on the sound of the tablah – we become connected and ‘speak the same language’, regardless of the lack of words we use.

Following the workshop, the director made note at how concentrated and involved the children were, and have since, expressed a need for weekly music workshops. Since it’s not sustainable to travel once a week to Dura, we offered their twelve teachers and caretakers training in 2019. At Musicians Without Borders, we work to create long-term solutions and by training the staff, the people who are closest to these children, can provide them with music workshops and enjoy and share in their new language.


Support our work in Palestine today. Your donations, big and small, help us deliver programs that impact thousands of people every day. Donate today and become a friend for just €5 a month!



Interview: Manu van Kersbergen

We interviewed MWB trainer and hip-hop artist, Manu van Kersbergen. Intrigued by different ways of telling a story, Manu tells stories in many different forms and aims to help young people find their own voice by giving them the tools to do the same.

How long have you been working as a workshop leader with unaccompanied asylum-seeking children?

The first project with unaccompanied minor refugees I did for Musicians Without Borders was in 2016 in Italy. After that, we did another project in Italy, as well as a project in Greece.

What brought you to lead these workshops?

In 2015, MWB asked me to do a project in Palestine with a group of 8 Palestinian rappers who then went on to become workshop leaders themselves. I had already led workshops in the Netherlands because I believe it is important to teach young people how they can express themselves, but I noticed that young people in difficult situations feel even more urgency to tell their story. The urgency to tell your story is very important when writing rap songs or even a poem.

How do you think a rap workshop stands apart from other kinds of music workshops?

Young people connect to rap, hip-hop, and urban cultures easily; this makes it really easy to connect to young people through these forms of expression. Many times, with other music, you need to be able to play an instrument, which takes training. Rap and spoken word also takes training but can be more accessible, since most people can write.

You were saying that rap makes it easier to connect to young people. Do you also feel it makes it easier for young people to connect to each other?

I believe that young people learn a lot from each other. Peer-to-peer education is an important part of education and is embedded in the culture of hip-hop and urban cultures. Back in the day, you had schools to learn how to play the violin for example, but there was no school for hip hop. Young people who expressed themselves through hip-hop naturally created a system in which they taught each other.



The song you made with the participants in Greece talks about dreams and goals (“What do you wanna do? What do you wanna be?”) – How did this theme come about? What was the goal of this theme?

For me and the other workshop leader Guus, it was really important to encourage the participants to think about what their dreams are and focus less on them as refugees. Music is a powerful tool to give people an idea of who they are. That is especially needed in situations where there might not be so much space for defining yourself or your own identity. I believe that being a refugee is not part of your identity; it is a moment of time in which you are, it is an experience. When you are a teenager the whole idea of identity building is really important for you as a person and your self-worth. This goes hand in hand with this theme of what you want to become and what your dreams and ambition are in life.

What’s the most exciting moment you had during your recent workshop in Greece?

It is difficult to just pick one, but what was really exciting was how the group, in just one week, became united as a group and helped one another out. We felt like this wolfpack and all felt the urge and enthusiasm to make this beautiful song. Their enthusiasm, drive and their urgency was overwhelmingly beautiful.

You’ve now been involved in 3 rap workshops, how do you see these workshops evolving?

Every workshop was different in set up. I believe it’s a bad thing to think you have found a formula and you use that formula over and over again. Especially working with unaccompanied minor asylum-seekers and refugees you have to be flexible as a trainer. Also, the groups always change and so does the level of existing knowledge of rhythm and rap.

What I believe has evolved, especially in my consciousness, is that as a trainer you should not decide too much before and set too many boundaries for the group. Of course, you have your building blocks, but as a trainer, you should be open for the ideas that are living in the group and see what exercises fit better within the group. It is also very important to make choosing your theme and topic a group process. In the end, it is your group of participants that are making the song, so it is very important that they feel ownership of the song and theme.