Songs drawing on traditional themes of longing, migration and land are giving refugee children in Lebanon a voiceby Samira Shackle / September 8, 2017 / Leave a comment
Upstairs at a community centre in Majdal Anjar, a small town in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, a group of children are learning to sing a Bollywood song. Around 25 children are gathered here, aged anything from eight to 16. They’re all Syrian refugees, displaced from their homes by conflict, and they all love Bollywood movies. Many of them hail from conservative religious families; to these communities, the chaste romances of Indian cinema are more palatable than the overtly sexual storylines often seen in western films. The children laugh as they trip over the unfamiliar words, forgetting the troubles of their home lives as they stand up, puff out their chests and blast out the song at full volume.
The choir is run by a small organisation called Seenaryo which focuses on bringing good quality theatre and music teaching to refugees in Lebanon. This is one of five songs the choir is learning; some of the others are more traditional, as Yasmine, one of the facilitators at the choir, explains. Yasmine, who is in her 20s, fled her home in Daraya, due to the war. She was trained as a dentist in Syria, but in addition to music teaching, is now undertaking a degree in psychology. (Many Syrians who have the means enroll in university courses—even if they are already graduates—as a way to legally remain in Lebanon). She has a beautiful singing voice, and is passionate about music and its ability to transform.
As the children file out after the session, which took place at Syrian organisation Women Now’s centre, Yasmine explains that because of the cultural conservatism of the families living around Majdal Anjar, the choir avoids romantic topics altogether so that parents don’t pull their kids out. That’s why the modified version of the Bollywood song worked. Sometimes they choose traditional songs about Syrian culture. “Once the families know that these are the songs we’re singing, they are okay with sending their kids—otherwise they might have reservations,” she says.
In common with folk traditions across the Arab world, many traditional Syrian songs focus on themes of longing for home, of migration, land, soil, and displacement. The children learned one of these songs in the choir. The lyrics in English roughly translate to: “I’m going…