“Art is about opening up to possibility and possibility links to hope, and we all need hope.” - The Music of Strangers: Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble
FilmAid recently teamed up with Participant Media and the Silk Road Ensemble to create and implement a series of screenings and workshops with refugee youth in Jordan. We are thrilled to be working with Silk Road. They are not only an inspiring ensemble of musicians and artists, but an equally incredible group of educators and activists who have been conducting workshops around the world. Leveraging the expertise and enthusiasm of two great organizations like Silk Road and Participant Media, FilmAid was able to create and are now beginning to implement a three month series of screenings and workshops supporting Syrian refugee youth. The workshops use the film The Music of Strangers: Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble by Oscar-winning director Morgan Neville (20 Feet from Stardom) as a starting point for helping refugee youth tell their own stories through art and music. The workshop and screening series kicked-off on June 6th with a visit by Kevork Mourad, a Syrian artist and Chinese pipa virtuoso and composer Wu Man.
FilmAid caught up with Kevork this past weekend to talk to him about his experience, but like many who work with refugee youth, he had a hard time conveying the contradictory feelings of heartbreak and hope. “I don’t know how to describe it. It’s very moving to see that they are surviving with nothing... I wanted to go and do the workshops and just tell them this workshop is about your story. I want to hear your story... but even more, I wanted to know [through this experience] more about how we can help these kids.” The workshops are built around the idea that stories can be told in many different ways. We believe that refugee youth need to be given the support to tell their stories as a way of understanding both what they experienced and how they can shape how other people understand their experience. For many refugee youth, telling their own story from their own perspective can be extremely challenging. As Kevork puts it, “At first I spent maybe two hours just figuring out, how can we help. I felt like they were so reserved. Either they were afraid, or they were so reserved because they are in a different county. They cannot just freely express themselves about what happened. So I feel like this storytelling idea [of using art and music instead of words] was a good way to start.” And his experience during the workshops proves that point: “I recorded a couple of girls singing and I was in tears. Not only me but many of our members were crying because this song reflected exactly what they were trying to say.” The simple insight that art and music can be avenues for dialogue and understanding, especially where words feel inadequate, along with the Silk Road Project’s experience and expertise has made this collaboration particularly powerful.
Together with Participant and Silk Road, we will be screening Morgan Neville’s beautiful film The Music of Strangers, which tells the story of YoYo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble and explores the creative potential of cultural exchange across borders and cultures. At its heart, the film asks the very difficult questions, what is culture? What is home? What can we as individuals do in the face of revolutions and cultural dislocation? In many ways, the music workshops with youth answer that question in the same way that the film does. Film, art, music and culture are intrinsically about exchange and dialogue. Art and culture are part of every human society because they allow for difficult subjects and painful experiences to be discussed and shared in ways that ultimately foster hope and support community resilience. As one participant in the film says, “Art is about opening up to possibility and possibility links to hope, and we all need hope.”
FilmAid is committed to continuing the work that we’ve started with Silk Road and Participant. We have added further partners who bring their own expertise and experience. We will be working with several local Jordanian NGOs who have been operating inside and outside the camps in Jordan since the crisis began 5 years ago. As part of the program, we will bring local artists and musicians to continue the workshops begun by Kevork and Wu Man. As Kevork says, “I think our role is - as much as possible - to work with their own culture and help them be aware of their own culture and identity. I think that is our role, to feed them with whatever they are missing.”
Kevork is currently working on a video that captures some of his and the young people’s experience over the course of the workshops.
Check out the Music of Strangers Trailer below and get out to the cinema to see it. It goes into wide release this week.