Language of music unites refugees

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All the musicians in the Orchestre Partout (Everywhere Orchestra) are refugees. They perform at festivals and in refugee centres throughout the Netherlands.
The band was formed a year and a half ago, but its line-up is constantly changing, says musical director Ted van Leeuwen. “Musicians drop out suddenly because they’re deported. But now we have several permanent members, including people who have got a residence permit”.
Orchestre Partout plays its own compositions. Some of the members are from Afghanistan, others from Eritrea, but all the musicians play all the music. That requires some musical flexibility: the Eritrean keyboard player is used to a very different scale from the Afghan flautist. And not everyone can keep up with complicated African rhythms. It’s up to van Leeuwen to make sure it all works out. “Fortunately, I’m musical,” he says.
Over the coming months, the orchestra will visit other refugee centres to encourage the residents to set up their own band. One of the biggest problems in refugee centres is language, says van Leeuwen. “With so many nationalities it’s like a Tower of Babel, but everyone understands music.”