Gregory Smith

Music director of refugee choir hails international language of music

A music director from Leicester has hailed the power of the international language of music after masterminding efforts for a refugee choir to sing with Liverpool pop sensation Sonia in the build-up to the Eurovision Song Contest.

Gregory Smith, director of music charity Kaine Management, has helped bring together over 50 refugees and asylum seekers from countries including Ukraine and Afghanistan to sing a special rendition of former Eurovision star Sonia’s 1989 UK No.1 hit You’ll Never Stop Me Loving You alongside the singer herself.

The project sees the National Lottery funded European Youth Music Refugee Choir (EYMRC) perform this unique version of the song, which includes a new second verse sung in Ukrainian. Following rehearsals at the Adelphi Hotel in Liverpool a week ago, the choir performed the song with Sonia at the National Lottery funded Everyman Theatre on the aptly named Hope Street in the city on Wednesday 26 April.

And Smith hailed the transformative impact on music on the lives of young people who have seen their lives flipped upside down in recent years.

“It has been an amazing experience to find young people and bring them together in this unique way and deliver a music workshop with them, and to actually deliver a performance,” said Smith.

“There are a number of hurdles and barriers in doing that but I think we have managed to pull something off which is really spectacular given all of that.

“Music is an international language, so it is the one thing that brings everyone together. The reality is that people hear melodies, people can hear music so the battle is with the language and the words.

“We are skilled now in being able to help people for whom English isn’t their first language overcome the language barrier and assist them in learning songs.

“It has been a transformative event for them, it has all been smiles and laughter and you don’t have a moment to think about anything else. For many that will come as a relief and many will leave finding inspired and motivated.

“We are not here just to teach people to sing a song, we are here to enable to them to feel more content about living here.

“There are so many backstories in terms of how these young people have come to be here, so it is important they are front and centre of everything they are doing, it just so happens they are singing.”

The special project is part of The National Lottery’s funding, that has seen over £300m invested in 3,600 arts and heritage projects in Liverpool to date as well as more than £250,000 spent to help bring communities together to celebrate Eurovision and support the Ukrainian community in the UK.

Liverpudlian Sonia is one of a number of former Eurovision stars getting involved in the celebrations, with the contest arriving in her home city three decades after she finished second with Better the Devil You Know in Ireland.

And the singer lauded the power of music to unite as she looked forward to welcoming Europe to Merseyside next month.

“Music brings and unites everyone together,” she said. “It’s just lovely to see them all smiling and enjoying the song. To think about what they have been through, it’s wonderful for them to be able to come together.

“My song feels appropriate because of the words in the song You’ll Never Stop Me Loving You: no matter what happens, love unites.

“It’s such a wonderful thing for the refugees to come together. It’s not just about music, it’s about finding new friends, having fun. A lot of these refugees and asylum seekers are vulnerable and it’s good for them to be able to come out of their shell and make them feel as welcome as possible.

“It’s fantastic that The National Lottery are doing this. Seeing them come to live, have joy, have hope given all the horrible things they have been through. To now have a release, to find new friends, come together and have a bit of fun.

“Liverpudlians are such friendly people and they are so funny as well, they are really genuine people who open their arms out and welcome anybody in. We are going to do Eurovision so proud – it is going to be a massive party.”

National Lottery players raise more than £30 million a week for arts, education, environment, health, heritage, sport, and voluntary projects across the UK; see the difference it’s making near you at www.lotterygoodcauses.org.uk

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