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Music, Memories and Mendhi at Nottingham Refugee Week's RefuTalent 2019

27 June 19 words: Golesedi Maguire

“Our prime purpose in this life is to help others. And if you can’t help them, at least don’t hurt them.” This was said by the Dalai Lama and quoted by Swan, a monologue artist at RefuTalent.

Refugee Forum’s contribution to this year’s Refugee Week events was RefuTalent – a talent show by refugees, asylum seekers and their supporters. An ensemble of eight performances, including mine, was the evening’s entertainment.

Much to my delight, the event started just how I like; with a free feast! A delicious array of ample food, prepared by Indian and Pakistani volunteer chefs, suited those who’d turned up for a good time, as well as indulging them in something that reminds them of home. We munched away with world music playing in the background. Notably for me, the soothing sound of Chileshe by Hugh Masekela, filled the room. Masekela, the father of anti-apartheid South African jazz, sings, “Hela Chileshe, ungaba yeti baku bizi ikirimani,” which means; ‘Hey Chileshe, don’t let them call you a foreigner.’ I pondered on the idea that, as global citizens, none of us are foreigners anywhere.

The show kicked off with Syrian husband and wife duo, Mahal Rawaeh and Amjad Batous, playing oud and duff instruments. The first was a pear-shaped string instrument, and the other resembled a tambourine. They performed Lebanese and Egyptian songs, both with themes of missing home. The nostalgia produced an impromptu audience participation – a group of men got out of their seats, and regaled us with Syrian dancing. This moved the women in the audience to erupt into euphoric ululation.

Next was yours truly – I performed the Botswana national anthem, singing the recitation usually delivered only in Setswana, with English translations. This offering from my home had a sense of hopefulness in it as it speaks to the idealism most of us at the event would like represented in our home countries. A lyric which resonates from the anthem, “Ina lentle la tumo, la tshaba ya Botswana, ka kutlwano le kagisano”, which means, ‘The name Botswana to us came, through our unity and harmony.’

A group of Spanish students on an Erasmus exchange program then presented their thoughts on the importance of the occasion. They spoke of learning a lot about refugees and asylum seekers, and their intention to continue raising awareness of the surrounding issues in their home country. Most memorable for me was their mention of the significance of communicating, as this opens both minds and hearts.

Igbo Union Nottingham, a troupe of seven Nigerian women in golden Igbo attire, then raised the tempo again, as they entered the room in spirited song and dance, which conveyed the message, “we have come to dance, and we greet you all.” Chidi Nzereogu, Igbo Union Nottingham’s Special Projects Coordinator, explains that the introductory song is, “a way of exchanging friendship, as it builds bridges, promoting community cohesion.” The routine was accompanied by an assortment of Igbo percussion instruments.

Among the entertainment was a sister act by 5-year-old Khushi, which means happiness in Gujrati, and 11-year-old Mansi. They put on a super cute dance, leaving very few dry eyes in the room. Other entertainment included world-class Ethiopian pianist named Bisiat, and Cathy, a British lady who showcased her paintings and poetry.  As if we hadn’t been spoilt enough, a lady named Fatima then gifted many women with gorgeous mendhi designs at the end of the evening.

A chat with some of the centre’s employees revealed a shared sentiment among them about the event, and was best encapsulated by the Service Manager, Hannah Caithness, who said; “Refugee Week allows people to speak for themselves. As people who work with refugees and asylum seekers, we spend a lot of time advocating for them.

“But events like these allow people who are usually talked for, talked over, and talked about, often very negatively, to show themselves in their best light. All of this happiness in one place, is what makes me emotional. To be able to go into a room together, and have a celebration featuring different cultures, is the best thing ever.”

RefuTalent 2019 took place as part of Refugee Week, at Nottingham and Nottinghamshire Refugee Forum, on Friday 21 June

Nottingham Refugee Week website

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