Raghad Haddad, Sam Slatcher, Dewi Erwan and the Sanctuary Seekers Choir (left to right)

One hundred and seventy people packed out the Chapter House in Durham Cathedral last night (19th October) for the sold-out premier of the Stories of Sanctuary performance. The two hour performance curated by folk singer-songwriter Sam Slatcher brought together new songs created over the summer in workshops with Syrian refugees, along with traditional Syrian and North East-inspired music.

“Wow. What an experience, both musically and emotionally”

The performance took the audience on a journey from stories of old – from an exiled monastic community laying to rest the body of the much loved Saint Cuthbert in the 10th century (in Durham Cathedral) – to recent stories of being forced to leave home, to the desire to “live together and “dream as one”, as one of the songs began. The songs were brought alive by the Sanctuary Seekers Choir – the participants themselves – most of whom had never sung in front of an audience.

“Stories and hearing the voices of those who are often overlooked or unheard, who have actually undergone the dangers of migration/seeking refuge”

At least six of the 12 songs had been directly written in the workshops. “I did not expect we had this talent in ourselves”, remarks Nousayba, “the songs just express exactly how we feel”.

Wafa conducting the choir

The performers included guest musician Raghad Haddad from the National Syrian Orchestra, who joined the project in August to record viola for the album. One of the highlights of the show included an improvised piece with Hurdy Gurdy player Paul Martin that fused together 12th century pan-European folk with classical Syrian music.

Before an enchanting encore of drumming and improvised viola, Sam Slatcher performed a solo acoustic performance of ‘City of Sanctuary’; the song he wrote that inspired the project, with the music video reaching over 75,000 views on social media earlier this year.

Raghad Haddad, from the National Syrian Orchestra, improvising with multi-instrumentalist Paul Martin

The songs appear on an album that has been recorded by Sam along with Raghad, Paul and participants from the workshops singing and performing on the songs. The album Stories of Sanctuary has been produced by Ron Angus at Studio One, County Durham. The album is available to preview ahead of the release on 9th November on Bandcamp.

The project is funded by the National Lottery via the Arts Council’s Grants for the Arts programme.

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