Refugee Orchestra Project: Spreading awareness of displaced peoples

World Today

Refugee Orchestra Project: Spreading awareness of displaced peoples

The European refugee crisis put a spotlight on the plight of displaced people. One U.S. organization is focusing that gaze through music.

And it’s a mission it takes very personally.


CGTN’s Frances Kuo was at a recent concert they held in Washington.

Refugee Orchestra Project: Spreading awareness of displaced peoples

The European refugee crisis put a spotlight on the plight of displaced people. One U.S. organization is focusing that gaze through music. And it's a mission it takes very personally. CGTN's Frances Kuo was at a recent concert they held in Washington.

The stunning voice of Zhanna Alkhazova is lifted by a message from the heart.

“When people come and listen to music, something moves, and when they realize it’s put together with this purpose, it seems there’s meaning,” Alkhazova said.

The meaning for Alkhazova and the other musicians at this concert outside Washington, D.C., is a special one. It is not only to spread their love of music but also awareness about refugees.

Lidiya Yankovskaya is the artistic director and conductor of the Refugee Orchestra Project. She was inspired by her own experience, as well as by the European refugee crisis. The goal is to share the contributions make to society and their continued struggles.

“My family came to this country from Russia, largely to escape anti-Semitism in the 90s,” Yankovskaya said. “Being a refugee is not something specific to one culture or one color or one type of person or one religion. Any of us could be refugees, and any of us can end up in that situation.”

All the 60 musicians performing at this concert are friends and relatives of refugees. All the music is inspired by refugees and their experiences, including Amal El-Shrafi, an opera singer who performed at the concert.

“My father is a Palestinian refugee, my grandparents, they were refugees in Jordan,” El-Shrafi said.

To illustrate the shared refugee experience, El-Shrafi sang a song re-worked by a Jewish-Israeli composer and conducted by a Catholic-American, John Devlin.

Devlin collaborated with Yankovskaya through his group, Gourmet Symphony, to bring the local musicians together.

“If you think creatively and get enough people together, you can make a powerful statement for the good, and we want to make people feel empowered to do that,” Devlin said.

This is the refugee orchestra project’s first concert here in Washington, but they’ve had performances in other U.S. cities and hope to expand in the future.

The concerts are free, but donations are welcomed. All of the proceeds go to local refugee aid agencies. However, the project is more than about raising funds; it’s about changing mindsets.

“I hope that people come to the concert and see individuals from their country and connect with them and understand that they’re just like you and me,” Yankovskaya said.

It’s a sentiment that’s already resonated with Erica Clarke. It was her first time at one of these concerts, and she immediately felt a connection.

“We’ve had our challenges of people of color in this country, I can definitely relate to what refugees may go through,” Clarke said. “As an African-American, my ancestors came here as slaves and that’s a little different, but we still have the same type of struggles.”

“Our job is to create some magic that communicates with the people in the audience, and they feel inspired as a result of what they are doing,” Devlin said.