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Music

Warding off isolation with song

Each day could be his last in Germany. Singer Revelino Mondehi could be deported to the Ivory Coast at any time, as he lives in Germany on sufferance. In the meantime, he and other refugees sing about waiting for asylum.

"An asylum-seeker is not a criminal; an asylum-seeker is not a murderer!" Revelino Mondehi's voice is soft, but forceful. The singer bounces back and forth to the off-beat of the reggae music. The crowd in front of him cheers. It's his song, his story.

The concert at Bonn's Brotfabrik venue is sold out: hundreds have come to see and hear Revelino and his fellow musicians. For the man from the Ivory Coast, the performance also means a moment of freedom - even though he wouldn't be allowed to be here without official permission from the Foreigners' Registration Office.

Revelino came to Germany in 2010. A middleman took him and his best friend on board a container transport ship as stowaways. They nearly died on their journey. The refugees managed to survive six days without water in their hiding place, until some members of the ship's crew found them and gave them food and fluids.

Listen to audio 02:30

Revelino singing 'Babylon'

Fleeing into imprisonment

Revelino is a famous reggae musician in Ivory Coast, where he sings openly in protest of corruption and the civil war. He's made a lot of enemies in his home country that way. He wanted to flee so that he could move about freely again. But the shock hit him when he arrived in Germany: "When the police came up to us on the ship, they put handcuffs on us," he recalls. "I experienced something similar in Ivory Coast. So when the German police handcuffed us, the fear and panic surged through me again."

When Revelino talks about his getaway, there's bitterness in his voice. "One flees from such a situation and then you arrive here, and the whole thing happens all over again. That scared me." Music helps the Ivorian process the experience.

'Freedom is paradise'

Revelino Mondehi and other musicians

Revelino Mondehi collaborates with other refugee musicians

German musician Heinz Ratz came up with the idea for the music project that would end up helping Revelino. Ratz, along with his band Strom und Wasser, visited 80 different refugee shelters across Germany in 2011 - to play music for the residents. "It was horrible to see how people have to live there: how they just have to waste away there. How they sometimes don't have enough to eat, have no opportunities for education, no possibilities for learning German, and have inferior medical care," the songwriter recalls. "I was horrified that something like that is possible in Germany."

On the tour, he met numerous singers and musicians who had no opportunities for making music in the refugee homes. Since then, he, along with his expanded band "Strom und Wasser featuring The Refugees," has put out their second studio album. On the CD entitled "Freiheit ist Paradies" (Freedom is Paradise), musicians from Afghanistan, Iran, Gambia and many other crisis regions voice their experiences with war and violence, their escape, and what they have lived through in Germany.

The tour for the album is a major feat for all those involved. "I have made countless telephone calls to government offices and authorities, lawyers and refugee associations," Ratz says. He had to obtain official permission to travel for each of the musicians. Only two of the total of 30 musicians from around the world who have participated in the project have received a permanent residence permit.

Heinz Ratz of Strom & Wasser

Heinz Ratz of Strom und Wasser calls the government's endorsement of his work 'a joke'

'A joke' of an honor

Heinz Ratz received the "Integration Medal" from the German government in 2012 - an honor that still gives him a headache to this day. "I actually wanted to refuse the honor. It's a joke that a government that has such an inhumane refugee policy would give me an award."

But Ratz ultimately accepted the award in the hopes that it would offer protection for the refugees. After all, a government that honors a project in this way can't deport the musicians as easily, Ratz expects. The idea has worked until now, and none of the musicians have had to leave Germany.

But the tour ends soon and things don't look good for singer Revelino. He's doing everything he can to stay in Germany and find work. "I'm fighting because I have to support my siblings at home. I never studied myself, and I want to see to it that my brothers and sisters get an education," he says.

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