LIVE: Refugee Week Session – Howard Assembly Room, Leeds, 23/06/2022 1

LIVE: Refugee Week Session – Howard Assembly Room, Leeds, 23/06/2022

It is Refugee Week, a national festival “celebrating the contributions, creativity and resilience of refugees and people seeking sanctuary.” Founded in 1998 and held every year since around World Refugee Day on the 20th of June, Refugee Week is “a platform for people who have sought safety in the UK to share their experiences, perspectives and creative work on their own terms.” Expanding its reach globally, this event is cast into even sharper relief this year when account is taken of Russia’s recent invasion of Ukraine and the fact that millions of Ukrainian people have been forced to cross borders into neighbouring countries as a direct consequence of that war.

Opera North is built upon the firm foundations of inclusivity and the promotion of equal opportunities and has already forged for itself an excellent reputation for the community outreach work it undertakes. Four years ago, it became the first opera company in this country to be awarded Theatre of Sanctuary status “in recognition of its ongoing work to make refugees and asylum seekers feel valued, celebrated and included” in the local community in Leeds.

Opera North’s home theatre is Leeds Grand and located in that magnificent building is the Howard Assembly Room. As part of Refugee Week, the Howard Assembly Room has programmed an event, Refugee Week Session, featuring several short performances by a range of talented musicians from the refugee and asylum seeker community in West Yorkshire.

On a lovely summer’s evening here in Leeds the atmosphere inside the Howard Assembly Room is warm and welcoming, something reinforced when Harmony Choir take to the stage and open the Refugee Week Session. With 21 members here tonight – drawn from countries as geographically diverse as Azerbaijan and Zimbabwe – the choir who meet weekly in the centre of Leeds welcome everyone to the event with a song from South Africa. They sing of family, unity, togetherness and, perhaps above all, hope.

Hamsa Mounif is a singer with The Orchestra of Syrian Musicians and accompanied here by cello, and like all the artists this evening, she sings of love. Her astonishing voice fills this beautiful barrel-vaulted chamber and concert space, bringing with it all the passion and joy of her home country tinged by the sadness that she feels at having been forced to leave it.


After the interval two Iranian gentlemen are joined on stage by members of Hind and the Jaffa Cakes, a group of musicians, both amateur and professional drawn from around the world but living in the local community, who have been brought together through the universal language of music at St. Augustine’s Centre in nearby Halifax. The two men, both individually and in unison, sing with power, spirit and determination and in a genuinely moving moment are joined for their last song by their two young daughters from whom they had been separated for several years beforehand.

A perfect evening draws to a close when local twins and excellent comperes for the event, Tila and Tavelah belt out first Adele’s ‘Set Fire To The Rain’ and then the Etta James’ 1961 classic ‘At Last’. “At last, the skies above are blue” , they sing, heralding a cautious note of optimism for the future.

The theme for Refugee Week in 2022 is one of healing and aims to encourage everyone to explore what it means to heal from trauma and the ways that we can support each other in doing so. This wonderful event in Leeds tonight undoubtedly develops awareness in this regard; showcases the tremendous talent and expertise that refugees bring with them to the UK; and fosters successful integration in our local communities.

Photos: Simon Godley

More photos from Refugee Week Session are HERE

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