A Common Language for Teenage Refugees
The music production workshop that's building futures
How do you bring together teens from countries all over the world? Perhaps, with music. Music Unite, a music production workshop for unaccompanied teenage refugees living in Berlin, is doing just that.
For the teens living in refugee shelters, music is a means of cultural expression, connection, and storytelling. Gaby D’Annunzio created Music Unite to help these kids connect with one another and also with the vibrant music scene in Berlin. After a successful first workshop, she’s started a fundraising campaign to keep the project running. We speak with Gaby about the project and the ways that she wants to provide a space for teens to use music as a common language to bridge cultural divides.
Tell us a bit about yourself and your project – how did the idea come to you? I’d been volunteering a lot and going to lectures when I met Ardjani Puig, a social worker who works with teenagers. We talked about doing workshops and something with music, and it all sort of stemmed from there really. I’ve got a friend that I work with, Jerónimo Puente, he taught music in Mexico, and we were talking about the idea of maybe doing a production workshop, so we all met up and brainstormed the idea. Ardjani proposed it to the kids and they were really excited about it.
We ran a trial workshop for a week and it was incredible how engaged and passionate they were already. One of the boys was already using Ableton, and one of them is an incredible MC. The idea of the first workshop was to get songs from their past or where they’re from and record bits of the songs and mix it to make a track. We produced two tracks in the first week and yeah, just based on how well they reacted to it and how much they wanted to learn we were like, ‘Okay, maybe we should do another workshop and keep it going!’
Can you tell us about the teenagers and the organisation you’re working with? The NGO we are working with, Evin e.v., has three different shelters around Berlin and they’ve got around 80 kids. They’re all kids that have come from Syria, Sri Lanka, Guinea, and Afghanistan without their families. They give them the support and housing they need and help them with all of their paperwork and stuff. Occasionally they’ll try to organise things for them to do outside of school. It’s a really incredible organisation.
Berlin is such a cool city for electronic music and it’s really nice to be able to connect them to the scene here and give them an opportunity to make music. We probably wouldn’t have carried on doing another workshop if it hadn’t have been for how excited they were and so eager to learn. They just wanted more, so it stemmed from them really.
What I really like about making music is that music has no borders, you don't need a language to understand it. - Fahd, student, age 18
Can you tell us more about the teens’ backgrounds? They’re all boys actually, and they all have different stories. Some of them have run away from home, but a lot of them come here because of war back home and their families sent them to get a better life. It’s interesting that it’s only boys, because I think a lot of families in these situations wouldn’t send their daughters so they send two brothers together to come here. I didn’t actually talk to them much about what they’d been through or where they’d come from – the focus was on being positive, making music, and celebrating their experiences and music backgrounds.
Now what we’re trying to do is a class once a week, and the idea is that we’ll have guest people coming in and teaching them different parts of music production. Focusing on a compressor, for example. My friend UVB has donated a compressor that Daft Punk used so we’re going to play them the track and then show them how they can make it. We’ll do a hip hop class as well, because they’re really into hip hop, and then teach them lots of different things about music. The idea is to set them up with a studio so that they can go there and make music, because we realised when we did the first workshop that it was great that they were learning but they couldn’t go on and do anything with it, you know? So the idea really is that they can go there, use what they learned, and keep making music.