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Sound of freedom

Jan D. Walter / jsOctober 29, 2015

A diversion from daily life for young people stuck between refugee shelters and government authorities: That was the idea behind a music project in Düsseldorf. Now, the project has spawned the band Sound of Freedom.

Deutschland Flüchtlinge Der Klang der Freiheit
Image: DW/J. D. Walter

One ... two ... three ... four. Every time the drummer gives the beat with his sticks, there is a moment of absolute silence in the recording studios of the Institute for Music and Media in Düsseldorf. Then, with the clash of a cymbal, the intro starts: The arpeggios flow melancholically yet lightly through the classroom-sized studio, in the slow movement of a three-eighths beat - accompanied by the mandolin-like sound of an Albanian Cifteli and the long silky sound of a violin. The drums and a wooden shaker make up the rhythm section. At the end of the hovering intro, the sound suddenly changes to a tight four-four beat.

The skillful rhythm change makes it clear: These are not beginners. "The level has developed amazingly," says the Düsseldorf musician Freeze 4U. For the last several years he has been managing international music projects for youths, albeit under his given name, Björn Frahm. He says the idea of organizing a workshop with young refugees came about at the end of 2014 in cooperation with the ABA professional association for action-oriented education.

Half a year later, with support from the Protestant Welfare and Social Work Center of Düsseldorf, the band Sound of Freedom came together. The band's current lineup of musicians are from Guinea, Albania and Iran. They have already played a few concerts. Today, they are recording their first song - under quite professional circumstances.

Twenty-two-year-old Milad from Iran finds it exciting: "I've been playing the piano for 10 years, and I write my own songs," he says. The song that the combo is now playing grew out of one of Milad's ideas. "Land of Love" deals with the hope of a better future.

Deutschland Flüchtlinge Der Klang der Freiheit
The music project 'Sound of Freedom' has brought refugees togetherImage: DW/J. D. Walter

Play your troubles away

Milad hopes to find that future in Germany. He has been here for a year, his journey from southern Iran took him three months. He is currently being housed in a Bavarian refugee home. He takes a long-distance bus to Düsseldorf, where he stays with friends for a couple of days in order to be in the band. "It's complicated, but it is worth it," says Milad. "When I play music, I can forget all of my problems for a while."

Family, friends, his business administration studies - he had to leave his whole life in Iran. Authorities refused to hand over his documents. "This is the only ID that I have," says Milad, as he holds his Iranian student identification card high.

Now he is waiting for a decision on his asylum request. "My lawyer says, maybe it will come tomorrow, maybe in two years." In the meantime, Milad can neither study, nor work, neither here, nor in Iran. Because he says he cannot go back. He has already learned a lot of German, in classes and from DW's German programs: "Every day!" he assures me. You can hear the success.

Deutschland Flüchtlinge Der Klang der Freiheit
Singing and playing music helps the refugees forget the daily grindImage: DW/J. D. Walter

Fear of deportation

As an Iranian, Milad's chances of gaining asylum should be pretty good - unlike his Albanian bandmates Ando and Fatjon. Their home country is considered politically safe. Economic need is not grounds for asylum. But that wasn't the reason that the two came to Germany. They came here to study music: "In Tirana, music studies are conducted according to Russian tradition," explains violinist Ando, "but I absolutely want to study according to a German curriculum."

Ando is 23 years old. As a finger exercise to stay limber between takes, he fiddles Mozart's "Turkish March" in double time. He began playing violin at age seven and even finished his secondary schooling at an arts academy. After that, he studied violin for three years at the Albanian University of Arts in Tirana. That is where he met 19-year-old Fatjon. His instrument is actually the bugle, but he has played the two-stringed Cifteli since he was a child. He says that he has won a number of Balkan-wide competitions with it.

They say that music is their life. Both want to become professional musicians in Germany, but they don't have much hope: "On television I saw that North-Rhine Westphalia wants to deport all the Albanians," says Fatjon with a look of trepidation. That could already start happening in the beginning of November.

Many supporters

That would be a big loss for Sound of Freedom. "Ando and Fatjon play at a professional level," says career musician Frahm. He says he never would have expected that a studio ready band would come out of a project designed to give young people a respite from their fight with bureaucracy. That makes it all the more crucial that he can count on the support of Werner Roth, a professor for popular music at the Institute for Music and Media.

Roth booked the recording studio and organized students to support the project. "They really know what they are doing," says project manager Björn Frahm. He estimates that the students have volunteered at least 500 work hours in helping realize the project.

They have a relaxed approach: "It's totally fun," says recording manager David, "and I if can do a good deed at the same time ... perfect!"

Drummer Matthias looks at it similarly: "I don't have a band right now, and this is really fun."

Deutschland Flüchtlinge Der Klang der Freiheit
Sponsors and donations made it possible to book a studio recording sessionImage: DW/J. D. Walter

Frahm says the fact that the band have made it this far has a lot to do with the generous support they have received: A security company donated a stage piano, the owner of a music store gave Ando a violin, the city made rehearsal rooms available and the public transport authority donated travel tickets.

Last but not least, the state of North Rhine-Westphalia took over the financing of the project. The funding, however, is scheduled to run out at the end of the year. But Frahm figures that by May 2016, at the latest, there will be more. Then he wants to found new refugee bands in Cologne and Duisburg. With a little luck, financing might be continuous: "Thanks to Sound of Freedom, we have been nominated for a youth award. That could help." Now the band just has to stay together. Frahm assures me he's working on that, too. But he can't say more than that.