This album is the culmination of a project coordinated by singer-songwriter and activist Sam Slatcher in 2018, to work to welcome and integrate new refugees arriving in his home city of Durham. The theme is always togetherness and mutual respect and care. Rather than dwell on the horrors that people have fled from, he chooses to emphasise how warmth, acceptance and kindness can eventually help people heal and build new lives in a strange new place. This is a truly collaborative collection of pieces, some penned by Sam himself, some collectively, and some by other individuals involved in the project.
After the evocative, prayer-like call-and-answer opening track "So May We Find Peace" that fuses Middle Eastern rhythms and song structure with English and Arabic language and Sam's melodic vocal and soft flamenco influenced guitar sounds, we arrive at the wonderful "City of Sanctuary". This is a piano accompanied piece that sweeps a thousand years - from the Vikings to the present day - of Durham's history as a city that has welcomed and become a new safe home for those fleeing oppression and war. The song is interspersed with some very moving oral history as we hear first hand from a refugee who came to Durham from Europe as a child to escape the Nazis, and in parallel, from a recent arrival fleeing the war and destruction in Syria.
Next is a beautiful, haunting and wistful acapella performance in Arabic by Hasna Al Hassan. No need to see a translation really… the longing for home, security and a sense of belonging is infused in the singing.
The fusion of Middle Eastern and western styles is very effective in "Shadow and I", and then a fascinating track that uses a gentle bossa nova tempo - a form more usually associated with romantic love - to make a plea for a higher kind of love for all of us as human beings.
"Donemutha" is an instrumental track featuring the beautiful playing of Raghad Haddad- a viola player from the Syrian National Orchestra. Sam returns in "Deepest Cry of All" a poetic musing that uses images of bird migration and human migration in a deep yearning for home.
The whole group of singers and musicians collaborate on the composition and performance of "Like a Butterfly" before another instrumental featuring guitar and viola Sam and Raghad Haddad. Hasna al Hassan then delivers a powerful sung poem in Arabic.
"Swallow and Saint" reprises Sam's parallels of bird and human migration in a song with a lovely melody that really captures the expressiveness of his gentle voice and his sweet touch on the guitar. Then, to finish the album, there is a reprise of "City of Sanctuary, with more direct testaments from refugees relating their desperate journeys across the world followed by the warmth of kindness in Durham when they finally arrived as they set about building a new home for themselves.
This is an album that satisfies both as piece of social history and commentary of the world today, and as a musical statement of great beauty. There are no direct politics involved, it concentrates always of the human condition and the universality of experience, emphasising how much new arrivals have in common with those already here, not their differences. Sam has produced something that is living proof of the power of music and collaboration through music as a healing and bonding activity. However, it is the quality of the music that shines through as much as any "message" - a captivating, beautiful, thought-provoking and moving album.
A generous proportion of the retail price will go towards ongoing refugee support programmes in Durham.. Physical CDs and download available from website.
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