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23 Nov 2018


In conversation: SSI Arts and Culture Program Manager, Carolina Triana talks New Beginnings Festival from inception to evolution.


SSI Arts and Culture Program Manager Carolina Triana and festivalgoer at the SSI New Beginnings in Spring Festival. Photo: Damon Amb

This annual festival brings thousands of Sydneysiders together to enjoy the creative, culinary and artistic talents of people from refugee and migrant backgrounds.

This year, an eclectic group of Sydney’s newest community members took centre stage. Click here to get a taste of the impressive 2018 line-up and photo album.

The Festival is the brainchild of Carolina Triana and has undergone a vibrant evolutionary journey since its inception back in 2015.

What’s the vision behind the Festival?

The Festival’s innovative program encompasses music, dance, visual arts, craft and cuisine. It showcases the creative talents and cultural heritage of culturally and linguistically diverse artists and communities.

The programming widens audiences’ access to a broad range of art forms and cultural expressions. These high-quality and innovative arts experiences promote a deeper understanding between communities.

We celebrate cultural diversity as an inherent quality of Australian society and bring it to the fore. With so much creative talent and cultural vibrancy among newcomer communities, New Beginnings’ vision is to become a creative platform for newly arrived artists and makers as it simultaneously creates a space for community building and cohesion.

Festival crowds.

Captured: Festivalgoers at the recent SSI New Beginnings Festival in Spring 2018.

How has the Festival evolved since its inception?

The Festival first emerged back in 2015 to celebrate World Refugee Day, when SSI hosted the inaugural New Beginnings: Refugee Arts and Culture Festival at the Addison Road Community Centre in Marrickville.

From an intimate suburban community event, it has today evolved into an annual spring festival where thousands of Sydneysiders gather to celebrate diversity and unity in the heart of the city.

We also stage the New Beginnings Festival for Refugee Week, held annually in June. This instalment of the Festival is hosted by the Refugee Community Welcome Centre in Sydney’s inner west and showcases refugee-led workshops, performances and film screenings.

Behind the scenes, our team has expanded. Raphael Brasil joined us in March as Arts and Culture Producer. Delivering on all operational aspects of the Festival, from programming to logistics, Raphael works closely with artists, stallholders and across the organisation.

What were the highlights of the Spring Festival in 2018?

This year, the Festival provided a launch pad for people of refugee and migrant backgrounds to showcase their unique talents. Over 70 artists and 22 stallholders got involved.

A talented cohort of artists making their festival debut astounded audiences through an array of performances and interactive workshops.

Assyrian singer and Oud player, George Karam, known in Arabic music circles as the “Assyrian King”, has found in music his path to integration. With a career spanning 30 years, George has performed in Syria, Lebanon, UAE, Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

Now in Australia, George shares his knowledge as an Oud and music teacher. George was interviewed by The Guardian at the festival and commented, “As the name of the festival New Beginnings says — that’s a new beginning for me in Australia.”

The Mesopotamian Ensemble — a seven-piece band established in Western Sydney in 2016, whose union of the violin, oud, percussion, guitar, drum and keyboard explores the infinite melodies of the musical world of Mesopotamia — made an epic appearance at the Festival, introducing local audiences to the fusion of Mesopotamian and Middle-Eastern classical and contemporary folk music.

Iraqi-born Bashar Hanna, who arrived in Australia in 1998, founded the Mesopotamian Ensemble with the goal of both bringing Middle Eastern folk to Australia and giving a platform to musicians (five out of the seven members came here as refugees).

At the Festival, Bashar told The Guardian, “We noticed that professional musicians coming from refugee backgrounds — there are no production companies that can open the doors for them.

“Iraqi people have a treasure trove of musicians and performers but not everybody knows about them yet … [This helps them] start their own career [in Australia].”

Festival headliner Nardean is an Australian born MC, spoken-word poet, singer and songwriter who carries with her the ancient mysticism of her Egyptian heritage. Her debut single, “Nothing Matters”, received 30 thousand streams on Spotify within its first month. Nardean was interviewed and performed live on ABC RN Breakfast in the lead-up to the Festival.

Oyobi — a music project that uses live instrumentation and machines to traverse the boundaries between Afro-Latin tradition and modern analog electronica — got festivalgoers moving. Comprised of a group of accomplished musicians, including Vincent Sebastian, Adam Ventoura and Planeface, this music collective recently performed at the inaugural Australian Women in Music Awards (AWMA) with renowned hip-hop artist Kween-G, and the soulful Merenia Marin.

African dancehall prodigy and long-time New Beginnings artist Kween G also performed live on ABC RN’s The Music Show ahead of the Festival.

Where do you see the Festival in years to come?

Our next milestone is to go regional and showcase newly arrived artists that are based in regional Australia. By building our reach and audiences, we hope to become a landmark cultural event for both city and country.

The Festival not only fills a gap as a platform for refugee and migrant artists, but it also supports artists to connect with relevant networks and peers by providing capacity-building opportunities for newcomer artists. It fosters them to develop their practice and reach new and larger audiences.

We’ll continue investing efforts into this aspect of the Festival and facilitate professional development opportunities for newly arrived artists during the first years of settlement in Australia.

To find out more about SSI Arts & Culture initiatives, including New Beginnings Festival, click here.

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