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Camp de la linière à Grande Synthe - photo by Than Lui.

Musical asylum

There is a musical globalisation that is little talked about. It spreads from camp to camp via the gaps in the deadly checks at Europe’s borders. Among the men and women who can be described as exiles it accompanies and supports the desire to live, to exist as sensitive beings.


Finding refuge in music, the Linière camp, Grande-Synthe, November 2016

L’enceinte du Women Center diffuse une chanson du chanteur kurde Aram Shaïda.

A song by the Kurdish singer Aram Shaida can be heard inside the Women’s Centre. The women there take each other’s hands and start dancing, laughing and singing. Inept volunteers attempt the dance clumsily, learning the steps. From Iraqi Kurdistan these women travel across Europe with these sounds embedded in their phones connected to YouTube, in their memories, in their gestures. The music opens a chink of light in the camp’s heavy atmosphere, one of seemingly endless waiting.

The scene is filmed; it will be shared with relatives who have already been to England, others who are on their way or have stayed behind in Kurdistan. Look, we’re not giving up, we’re alive.



Some of the women love Beyoncé too; the younger ones belt out “Let It Go” from Frozen. They watch Pelikan TV, an Iraqi Kurdish channel, with their children, sighing over Ibrahim Tatlises’s videos with their daughters; never mind that he’s renounced his Kurdish origins to serve the interests of power in Ankara, he uses his golden voice to sing about beautiful romances that give them refuge for just a moment.



The videos and extracts of TV shows roll across the sometimes cracked screens of their phones. The television aesthetic respects the conventions of international variety shows: male and female presenters, gleaming sets, camera movements that reveal an audience that mirrors those watching on the screen, recalling and establishing the existence of a community of taste.

The videos feature seaside landscapes, familiar mountains, joyful celebrations, powerful love stories torn apart, Kurdish pride, odes to nature. The visuals have often been thrown together by amateurs online. Of course, this work provides the big data machine with a low-cost supply, but seen from the camp, it’s proof that fans of the singers and the singers themselves have taken the trouble to post this content on the platform, to edit it, comment on it, cover it, add images and translations, etc. This offers the women of the Grande-Synthe the chance to rally and rely on this creative activity. The combination of these resources is available online, allowing them to connect worlds through their phones and experience the reality of situating their circumstances in an aesthetic and cultural history.

The Linière camp in Grande-Synthe was made up overwhelmingly of Iraqi Kurdish exiles. In their musical landscapes, exile and life in the diaspora are omnipresent, creating shared imaginations of a potential life in exile.

Other relationships emerge from other exiles. For Nasser, it might be the psalmody of a verse that acts as a reminder that you’re never alone on the road, a gentle song that keeps his anger at bay; for Kingana, it reminds her of the friend she left behind; for Amara, its words give her courage and help her to remember never to give up on life.



Conjuring fear, Emmaus, Grande-Synthe, June 2018

The Linière camp was destroyed by fire. The Kurdish exiles are more precarious than ever but determined to keep going. Some families have been wandering across Europe for more than two years, like these young girls. One says proudly that she has been dancing Zumba across Europe with her mum for two years.


Cosmopolitique Calais 2020

The young group Shishani, consisting of Omer and Loup Blaster, play their compositions at the Channel – Scène Nationale in Calais. They believe love doesn’t care about borders and that you have to fight, that Calais is beautiful when it listens to the voices that pass through it.



The exile camps are fragile local stages that play host to numerous musical performances, both those by musicians passing through, of which there are some, and those by listeners who bring music to the camps by playing it on the phones and portable speakers.

Phones their pockets, logged in to YouTube whenever a bar of network allows, they alternate Afghan, Iranian, Ethiopian and Kurdish pop, Tiken Jah Fakoly, the latest snippets of US and British rap, as well as Bollywood hits in cosmopolitan arrangements that would be unlikely anywhere else.

These musical spaces and times can be refuges when they offer the chance to regain strength, find yourself and recharge your batteries, a space and time for yourself when any other opportunity to make your own choices seems elusive. They provide a chance to take control of time, to occupy space as you want to, a tiny power with the added benefit of warding off fear and absence, facing up to violence, summoning luck, killing time, tasting the enjoyment of listening to singers and bands in the countries left behind, connecting beyond the walls and barbed wire, continuing to believe.

Emilie Da Lage

Emilie Da Lage is a teacher-researcher in communication sciences and president of the Attacafa association, based in Lille. She is researching the place of music in the experiences of exile. Her research has been the subject of a podcast channel and a Radio Fréquences Monde sound exhibition produced by Attacafa

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