The musicians in Eddie Boyd and the Phatapillars didn’t know much about where the asylum seekers came from, they said, but knew they understood music.
Eddie Boyd, Sandy Clarke and Andy Nielsen from the Sydney-based blues and roots band took part in Settlement Services International’s (SSI) first Community Kitchen Jam Session for 2014, on March 12.
The trio said they hoped it might brighten the day for the mostly-Afghan group and make them feel welcome in Australia.
It was also an opportunity for them to learn about where the community-based asylum seekers had come from and why, they said.
“I don’t think we’re that aware of people’s situations,” Eddie, the band’s singer and guitarist, said, “so to hear first-hand from them, rather than just in the news was an eye-opener.”
“The guy I spoke to the most was from Sri Lanka and I asked how long he had been in Australia. He said he had spent one year in Sydney, one year in detention and a year in Indonesia.
“He was showing me a photo of his daughter who he said was back in Sri Lanka. I didn’t want to ask too much about that, it was obviously a hard subject to talk about. But I asked him if he was going to go back and he said no. It seemed pretty heavy.”
“Yeah, and if we can do something to help them take their minds off that for a little while, and make them smile, then I guess that’s pretty cool,” Andy added.
Sandy said: “I don’t feel like you get a lot of information about where these people are coming from and why.
“You’re so detached from it,” Andy continued, “you always hear about the boats coming over but you never hear it from their point of view. You never hear about why they are coming or what they’ve left behind.
“They’re not just coming here for a holiday on the beach. They’re looking for a better, safer life. I guess I probably take it for granted; being born here and living here, you don’t really realise that people are trying to get here for a chance to improve their lives. I couldn’t imagine being under constant attack or having my family imprisoned for something stupid. It’s nuts.
“But like we saw today, music is like a universal language. We can’t relate to their lives or where they came from but as soon as we played music they all seemed to enjoy it. They might not know what we’re singing about but they all enjoyed it and some of them got in and had a jam with us.”
The Jam Session project invites musicians to play at SSI’s fortnightly Community Kitchen initiative. Instruments are provided for SSI clients who want to play along, or play their own songs. The program coordinator, SSI’s Arts and Culture Coordinator, Carolina Triana said it was developed as it became obvious that clients were keen to perform for their friends. A donation of musical instruments through the Music for Refugees project, led by Philip Feinstein, then made it all possible.
Sandy, Phatapillars’ bassist, said the group was looking forward to returning and encouraging people to play traditional songs from their countries of origin.
“I find it very interesting to hear their traditional music as well,” he said, “it’s more like sharing things between musicians.”