Stories of Sanctuary performing at Durham Cathedral, 21st March 2019. Credit: Sophie Nimmins

Last week, the Stories of Sanctuary music production drew in hundreds of crowds in Durham, Stockton and Newcastle – the start of a national UK tour for the group of Syrian refugees.

Stories of Sanctuary is a community songwriting project which emerged out of friendships between Durham residents and Syrian refugees. The choir perform songs, stories and poetry about their experiences and their hopes for the future, many of which were written by the choir members themselves in a series of songwriting workshops in the summer of 2018.

The group is led by singer-songwriter Sam Slatcher and includes viola player Raghad Haddad, who was a member of the National Syrian Orchestra, as well as Syrian poet Hasna Al Hassoun, and several Durham residents. Among the more experienced performers are people who had never sung in front of an audience before the project, but who are fast developing their performing skills and are excited to embark this year on a national tour.

Sabah, a member of the choir and the recently-appointed tour coordinator talks of her experience singing:

“Music is the language of the world. When I was singing I felt every word I sang. I sang from my heart to all the hearts of the audience. I wanted to tell them that despite pain and sadness, we are brave because sometimes you just need to hope and have faith things will work out”

Having launched their songs to a sold-out audience in Chapter House at Durham Cathedral in October 2018, it was fitting that Durham Cathedral was the venue for the first performance of the tour last Thursday, with 150 people attending, this time to see them perform in the Cathedral itself.

Durham University student Lucy Sheard returned to see the choir:

‘This was my second time watching the choir perform and I wasn’t disappointed. The music is so uplifting and it’s great to see such a diverse community come together to share their experiences and celebrate what we have in common.’

The following evening the group travelled to Stockton to perform at ARC, and on Sunday Sam Slatcher and Raghad Haddad performed an intimate gig at the Cumberland Arms in Newcastle, fusing Syrian classical music with North East folk.

Later in the year, the group are set to visit Yorkshire and the Midlands, playing at some of the UK’s newly emerging refugee festivals such as the Migration Matters Festival in Sheffield and Journeys Festival in Leicester.

The idea for the tour came when the choir were invited to perform their

songs in the Houses of Parliament, at partner organisation City of Sanctuary’s national event Sanctuary in Parliament. During December, the group of 20 raised £5500 through a successful Crowdfund campaign to enable them to tour this year. The choir have also professionally recorded an album with Arts Council funding.

The Stories of Sanctuary tour continues with performances at Sheffield’s Migration Matters Festival on 22nd June and at the University of Hull on 23rd June.

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