In 2008 Julia Katarina took time out of a promising opera career and her own chamber opera company to move to Palestine to teach children in Westbank cities and refugee camps to sing, and lead children’s choirs in church concerts around the country. She worked for Al Kamandjati music school for three years teaching singing violoncello and music theory, acculturating and learning Arabic in the process and taking on the Palestinian struggle and refugee situation through peaceful cultural resistance, which is a lifelong commitment. As well as a high percentage of internally displaced people, more than half of the population are outside the countries borders, millions living in permanent refugee camps.
The crisis in the Middle East has seen a further 12 million people uprooted from their homes from Syria alone in the past seven years. That is the same scale as the Palestinian refugee crisis but in a fraction of the time. Like their Palestinian neighbours 70 and 50 years ago, they are fleeing war, destruction, torture, desperation and oppression. In fact, many of the refugees from Syria are Palestinian, twice refugeed and stateless after camps such a Yarmouk were almost completely destroyed.
New legislation, resulting in border restrictions is leaving thousands of refugees stranded en route towards Western Europe and Greek authorities estimated that number to be approximately 70,000 in Greece alone during March 2016. Many of these refugees are being held in more than 40 detention centres and internment camps across the Greek islands and mainland.
As a response to the heart-breaking and disturbing situation, Julia Katarina and Liz Meadows, as Music with Refugees completed a one month tour of various locations across Greece, including Thessaloniki, Lesvos, Athens and Kos, bringing some joy and respite by sharing music and song, playing a mix of traditional Arabic and English songs with oud and guitar.
Julia also speaks Arabic and could interpret for people and listen to their stories. She has returned to Greece several times since then, revisited some of the same places and people, sometimes by other musicians, including French cellist Floriane Dardard and Mahmoud Sabri Qawwal and also toured Leros, Kalimnos, Rhodes and Tilos, maintaining connections with families as they settle in other countries and supporting young musicians such as Udai (Pictured above, playing the oud).
Hearing and singing familiar songs comforts people, makes them feel more at home and raises their spirits.
Julia is an English German mezzo-soprano, oud player and cellist who taught music for nearly four years in Palestine. She taught singing, both Western classical repertoire and Arabic song, cello and music theory and sang in church concerts. Previously she co-founded and toured with a chamber opera company in Britain, singing the title role in a staged production of Gluck’s Orfeo ed Eurydice. Julia has completed 3 opera courses, including a Diploma at Birkbeck College, University of London. More recently, she has been playing Persian, Arabic and African music and accompanying herself and other singers on oud and cello. She plays and sings at arts and charity events, conferences, Sufi zikrs and welcome concerts for refugees, alternating between instruments, cultures and repertoires. Julia completed an MSc in Applied Music Psychology at Roehampton University, where she gave many recitals and performed a title role in their first opera production. In January 2016 she started Music with Refugees, giving concerts for refugee communities in England, Germany and Greece.
Liz plays guitar and cello and has performed and sung in many varied bands, choirs and musical ensembles, from punk bands to string quartets, traditional folk to all girl acapella groups for nearly 40 years. She is a very adaptable performer. She worked for a number of years with excluded and vulnerable young people, many in care, from across Devon, teaching music and facilitating song-writing as a means of self-expression in working through their trauma, and to raise self-esteem and bring joy. These skills as well as her fantastic sense of humour and unbounded optimism will be an asset to this project.
We first collaborated together, successfully bringing music to refugees as part of ‘Embracing Refugees’ and Beyond Borders Totnes and District’s Refugee Integration programme. We make a strong team, complement each other well and are eager to offer some peace and beauty and share our love for humanity through our music.
In order to make this work sustainable we would like to ask your support to help us finance travel, simple accommodation and living costs.
We have contacts on the ground in each location to assist us in finding appropriate venues to perform and give workshops in.
Any amount raised beyond our personal expenses will go directly towards volunteer projects helping refugees at the centres with anything that is most urgently pressing (eg. Food, clothing, bedding, medical supplies). We will work hard to ensure your donations will be used to the greatest possible effect.
We will keep you updated with our work and the situation as we find it.
Link to Music with Refugees Facebook: