Written by Harriet Paintin. Video by Harriet Paintin.
It was village Punjabi, mostly beyond my understanding, but so much was conveyed through his voice and his eyes. More men gathered to join the circle, and took it in turns to sing a verse in this long, unfolding musical story. One refrain came again and again at the end of each verse, ‘zindagi baki thi’, (life still remaining). An upturned cooking pot appeared and become his tabla. He skillfully tapped out a rhythm and this, with the melodic lilt of a village dialect, transported us from the dreary surroundings of Moria refugee camp in Lesbos to a place where borders, politics and nationalities hold no significance and made no sense.
There is so much potential beauty in the movement of people which is being lost in the dehumanising conditions that refugees are experiencing in Europe. Blues music evolved from the troubles experienced within African American society, the rebetiko genre of music, still popular in Greece today, came over with the wave of forced migration in the 1920s, and the movement of Romani gypsies from India to eastern Europe has had a profound impact on the strong musical culture in these regions.
Aid agencies struggle to provide basic needs, and in this struggle it is often forgotten that human beings need more than this to flourish. While physical needs are unarguably necessary, mental and emotional well-being is of equal importance. We forget that people are bringing with them unique life experiences expressed through music and song that must be recognised and celebrated. It does not take much to create a space for this to happen, and the result is an unending journey through the various thoughts, dreams and struggles of humanity.