“Collaborative arts projects that attempt to bring different voices together can often flounder when the goodwill that surrounds them simply isn’t enough to produce something workable, or let us be honest, listenable. “Stories of Sanctuary” I’m pleased to report comfortably breaks out of any such mould and takes us on a beautiful, rich, cultural, historic and moving journey through the workshops and ideas that brought it into being. Singer-songwriter Sam Slatcher working with a group of Syrian refugees (The Sanctuary Seekers) and talented musicians Raghad Haddad (National Syrian Orchestra) and North East Instrumentalist Paul Martin, has forged together a collection of songs and musical montages that deliver you thoughtfully and carefully into the heart of the experience  of the sanctuary seeker.
              “‘City of Sanctuary’ cleverly sets the spoken reminiscences of a young Syrian Refugee’s escape from war alongside the strikingly similar experiences of a Durham residents’ forbears who fled from the front line in Belgium a century earlier. These two accounts are themselves surrounded by Sam’s music and lyrics reminding us that Durham has spent a millennia being a place of sanctuary for those seeking safety and a hope for the future. In ‘Like A Butterfly’ a fleeting moment during the project writing sessions has been captured as a moving and powerful musical metaphor for the struggle and pain that the refugees have been through – “I may have lost it all, but I’ve not lost my soul”. There are two achingly beautiful A cappella tracks performed in Arabic by singer Hasna Al Hassoun. The depth and feeling with which she delivers these two pieces sits powerfully within the album and draws attention to her deep longing for the lost ‘everyday’ of a divided homeland. ‘Swallow and Saint’ is a particularly beautiful song and one of Sam’s solo compositions documenting the rescue of a trapped bird during the workshop sessions. Sounding pleasingly like a contemporary Nick Drake with his vocal style and guitar playing, the metaphors once again sing powerfully of the refugees lived experience. 
             “There are many other highlights in a work that speaks loudly of hope in the midst of difficulty and hardship, light in the midst of dark and dangerous times. As you journey with Sam and his co-collaborators through Stories of Sanctuary you will experience an album of great beauty, peace and musical depth. It is not hard to hear catharsis in the lines of the songs, in the working of the instruments and the gathered voices. This project was way more than just an artistic exercise as the songs, their messages and performances push firmly back against the hate and blame that is all to prevalent in our times – they bring us a different way. As Sam reminds us, we should share a heartbeat of sanctuary, for “we are all pilgrims of a kind”.”
 
Gareth Davies-Jones.
 
Gareth Davies-Jones is a singer-songwriter with over a decade of hard graft and experience as a professional musician, writing, recording and playing his way around the UK & Ireland. Gareth is “one of the UK’s best-kept musical secrets, powerful songs and affecting performances” according to Properganda. Visit Gareth’s website to explore Gareth’s music, including a preview of his new solo Christmas album released 1st December 2018.

Gareth Davies-Jones

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