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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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