Music: the best refuge

The image of the lifeless body of Alan Kurdi lying on the shore of the Mediterranean Sea sent shockwaves across the world, throwing some light on the scale of the tragedy that thousands of people have been facing in the past few years. Tune in to any world news channel and it would not be a wait too long to stumble across scenes of families like ours walking the tight rope of life, miles after miles, in large numbers, 24/7 only in search of peace and a good life. According to the International Organisation of Migration (IOM), more than a million migrants and refugees crossed into Europe in 2015. Thousands have died trying to sneak into Europe ‘illegally’ on flimsy rubber dinghies.

From fleeing war zones, conflict areas, civil wars, bombings, ruthless and mindless terrorists, to paying ransoms to mafia networks for risking their lives, to being rejected by the EU nations – these are the stories of sacrifice, human resilience and courage to defeat the evil forces. While it is not exactly in our hands to change things for the better completely on our own, the least we can all do is stand #WithRefugees. I have pledged my support for these precious lives in distress by signing the #WithRefugees petition. And I urge the UoL and the student fraternity at large to appeal to the governments to do their best in making the world a safer and better place for all, this World Refugee Day on 20 June.

Syrian refugee playing pianoImplementing changes in the policies of nations for letting in people and addressing the haunting problems of this worrying phenomenon might be restricted to the people holding diplomatic positions and offices in governments, but over the couple of years, I have had a realisation. Music might be the ultimate tool that could be used by all! Being a student of Indian classical music and International Relations, it is much more than a coincidence to me that the World Refugee Day and World Music Day are on successive days!

Martin Luther King Jr quoteMusic is an aspect so deeply intertwined with life that it becomes one of the easiest ways of expression! This aspect of life which has been integral to social change since ages past, helps one voice one’s inner feelings and the same time de-cage oneself from anxiety and depression. Music as a tool for social change is no novel idea.  Ahmed Maher signed petitions to bring down the Morsi government in Egypt at his concerts around the country, poets and composers like Tagore, Iqbal and Kazi Nazrul Islam composed songs (which would go on to become the clarion call for freedom) against the oppressive British Raj rule in India, and the melody of an old Catalonian song travelled almost a century of different resistance movements. In recent times, Professor Ahmed Sarmast has set an example by initiating a musical revolution in Afghanistan to counter the Talibani bigots. So, why can’t music be used by the millions of displaced people and all of us to address this cause?

I think it is absolutely necessary to do this and there have been initiatives like the Voices of Zaatari by OXFAM International and the Refugee Music Project project with similar aims.  The Voices of Zaatari enables Syrian refugees to use music to make their lives better in the UNHCR camp of Zaatari. Sitarist Anoushka Shankar’s latest album Land of Gold is an effort to express her feelings for the millions and also appeal for help worldwide. Jargon-wise, music may be only a ‘soft power’ but soft enough to melt people’s hearts and actually change the course of things. While governmental action and diplomatic procedures cannot be guaranteed, we can be absolutely sanguine that music will bring in harmony and melody to this earth. If tapped in properly, music can do wonders that we perhaps can’t even fathom at the present. What better place on earth to take refuge other than the galaxy of the notes and melodies, unbridled from any asylum-seeking, political motives and policies? This is what I am raring to enable every people do and I couldn’t be more excited!

Budhaditya is studying the BSc International Relations by distance learning in Kolkata, India.

3 thoughts on “Music: the best refuge

  1. Hi Budhaditya.

    Good post. I totally agree with you on the power of music.

    Although I’ve never experienced how life is in refugee camps, I did talk with a refugee who had been living in camps for a couple of years after fleeing Rwanda in 1994. One of the most difficult aspects she mentioned about camps is the potential annihilation of one’s identity. On top of that, you also have dramatic physical issues (e.g. diarrhoea) to consider.

    On this basis, conditions permitting, I believe music may well play a crucial role as far as the former dimension is concerned (i.e. psychological). Indeed, as you say, it can free your mind independent of where you are and bring harmony in desperate environments.

    In my opinion though, a big problem is that – as you say in your title – music runs the risk of being a transient refuge to asylum seekers, a delightful but fleeting relief rather than a solution to the huge multi-faceted problem.

    Like you, I support bottom-up approaches when dealing with matters of little to no interest to those who could really change things. At the same time though, I recognise it’s hard for ‘soft power’ to substantially change the status quo in scenarios like this, where leaders often respond according to the direction of money flows and sometimes unspecified ‘national interests’.

    Nevertheless, I can ‘feel’ your optimism and I would say that’s the only thing that matters in the end. Anything that can improve the horrible conditions in which refugees live should be completely embraced.


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