A group of novice singers and musicians from refugee and migrant backgrounds delighted a packed audience at the Powerhouse Youth Theatre, Fairfield, on December 10 with their Women in Harmony showcase.
Backed by musical mentors from the Sirens Big Band, they interspersed rousing renditions of well-known songs with inspiring reflections on their personal journeys of settlement in Australia.
Members of Women in Harmony access Core Multicultural Communities’ Women’s Settlement Project.
Through community consultation, Project Manager Rowena Assaad identified a need for an activity that would help develop the women’s skills and confidence. She formed a partnership with Sirens Big Band — some of Australia’s strongest and most innovative young female jazz musicians and improvisers — which for the past 18 months has been facilitating weekly music classes with the women.
The project would have concluded sooner if the participants had not requested a continuation so they could learn keyboard skills and songwriting. That was made possible with support from the NSW Settlement Partnership’s Settlement Innovation Fund.
Women in Harmony sought to make music an instrument of empowerment, for self-expression and feeling, a means of developing and maintaining cultural identity, and of acquiring new skills, social interaction and participation.
It included four terms of eight weeks with topics including rhythm notation and keyboard skills, learning to play a musical instrument, pitch notation, breathing skills, expressing ideas through music, and collaborative participation.
Multicultural Communities Manager Clement Meru spoke of the physical, emotional and social advantages that music could bring.
He said the Women in Harmony project brought people together from diverse backgrounds and offered companionship and the opportunity to form social connections.
He said Sirens added another dimension: a link with the mainstream. Members of the big band helped the women learn more about Australian culture and music, enabling them to better interact with wider society.
Following a guest appearance by Mohamed Youssef on oud, the Women in Harmony showcase proceeded with the “Women in Harmony” song (written by the group to a traditional Arabic Andalusian melody), “Ode to Joy”, “Surprise Party” and a song often considered an alternative national anthem, “I am Australian”, to which the women added two verses:
I came from a distant land, I bid my home adieu,
But carried in my heart a dream to build my life anew
And now I can speak as I choose, to each and every one,
I’m a woman full of courage, I am Australian.
I have a chance to learn here, my sisters go to school
I bring these gifts straight from my heart, I’d like to give to you
I’ll be a doctor, or a teacher, a neighbour or a mum,
I’ll show you how to celebrate, ’cause I’m Australian.
The finale, with spontaneous dancing, was “No Woman, No Cry”.
Multicultural Communities is a service of Core Community Services. It delivers Settlement Services to newly arrived migrants, refugees and humanitarian entrants to improve access to services, address special settlement needs and help develop skills and confidence.
Sirens Big Band formed in 2009 as a direct response to the under-representation of women in the jazz music community. Under the direction of bassist Jessica Dunn, Sirens Big Band has a unique Australian voice that explores the intersection of traditional Australian jazz with the rich musical traditions of our multicultural society.