Tue, 16 Jul 2019

Nervous Refugee sings at music workshop with cellist Yo-Yo Ma

The UN Refugee Agency
15 Jun 2019, 00:57 GMT+10

To play alongside Yo-Yo Ma, the world famous cellist, is a daunting challenge for most musicians as well as a privilege. But for Basma Jabr it is one more opportunity as she builds a professional singing career that only started when she arrived in Austria as a refugee in 2014.

"Of course I am a bit nervous," she said the morning before, during practice at the home of fellow musician Marwan Abado, who plays an oud, an Arab instrument like a lute. "I am also excited to have a new musical experience and the chance to meet other musicians."

Basma, 35, was born into a musical family in Kuwait but due to war left in 1990 for Syria, where she trained and worked as an architect.

Conflict in Syria made Basma a refugee a second time. Her husband, Aysar Aisamee , made the difficult journey to Europe alone. When he got refugee status, Basma and their two young children joined him. They arrived in Austria in 2014

Since then, Dr. Aisamee, a cardiologist, has got back into medicine and is working at a hospital in Vienna, and Basma's new career as a professional singer is starting to take off. The couple are a perfect example of how refugees can integrate successfully and contribute to society when they are welcomed.

Basma now sings in clubs and theatres across Vienna and has performed in other European countries but she says things were hard at first. She knew little German but music helped make connections.

"It was a comfort," she says. "Music is a universal language and you can say everything through it."

The workshop with Ma was dedicated to diversity and social inclusion. Eighty participants including 10 refugees learned and performed "Lamma Bada Yatathana", the song in Arabic from medieval Spain that Basma was rehearsing.

Vienna-based singer and Syrian refugee Basma Jabr, viola player Jelena Popržan, cellist Yo-Yo-Ma and artist Marwan Abado (from left to right) performing at an open music workshop in Vienna where people from across traditions, backgrounds and generations came together to play music and to make a statement for integration and social inclusion. © UNHCR/Stefanie J Steindl Syrian refugee and singer Basma Jabr, 35, with violinist Jelena Poprzan, at a workshop in Vienna intended to make music accessible to all. World-famous cellist Yo-Yo Ma also took part and U.N Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was in the audience. © UNHCR/Stefanie J Steindl Syrian refugee and singer Basma Jabr, 35, with fellow musician at a workshop in Vienna intended to make music accessible to all. World-famous cellist Yo-Yo Ma also took part and U.N Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was in the audience. © UNHCR/Stefanie J Steindl Syrian singer Basma Jabr, 35, and Lebanese-Palestinian oud player Marwan Abado, 52, rehearse for an important music workshop in Vienna. They will lead a mixed-ability group in the performance of an old Andalusian love song. © UNHCR/Stefanie J Steindl Self-taught Syrian pianist Hani Abo Harbbah Alnaeb, 19, books time at a Vienna piano studio to prepare for a music workshop at which cellist Yo-Yo Ma and the U.N. Secretary-General will be present. Normally, he practices at home on an electronic keyboard at night. © UNHCR/Stefanie J Steindl

Led by Marwan and Ma, the participants split into two groups and learned to chant different rhythms to support Basma's vocals. Another refugee, Hani Abo Harbbah Alnaeb, improvised on a white piano. The 19-year-old came from Syria in 2015 and since he arrived has taught himself to play, partly through watching YouTube videos.

The participants gathered for the workshop in a cultural centre in Vienna. As they played, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres - in Vienna for a visit - arrived and sat down in the front row to listen to the song.

"This is a fantastic illustration of how people from different parts of the world can come together in music, and peace," he said afterwards.

After the workshop, Basma was glowing. "It was difficult to coordinate so many people but it was fun, spontaneous and beautiful. And for me, it was a delight and honour to perform with Yo-Yo Ma."

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