In 1997, in a Tanzanian refugee camp, a group of musicians from the persecuted Twa community in Central Africa formed a choir to help fellow refugees overcome war trauma. Almost twenty years later, after relocating to regional WA, the Burundi Band and Peace Choir is set to perform in Fremantle this Friday.
The brainchild of former asylum seeker, Jean Phillipe, the Burundi Band and Peace Choir aimed to unite the Twa community and create happier memories during the Burundian Civil War that plagued their nation from 1993 to 2006. Crafting amplifiers out of clay-pots and making instruments out of oil bins, the band would perform to hundreds of people from close-by camps.
Once granted asylum in Australia in 2006, with many relocated to WA’s regional town of Katanning, the group continued to spread their peaceful message through music by playing at local churches, rotary clubs, cultural events, and conferences.
Perth journalist Coel Healy has been documenting the Burundi Band’s story in Katanning for the past two years, and believes it offers important insight into the issues faced by refugees living in regional communities. The wheat-belt town, 300km south-east of Perth, is one Australia’s most multicultural regional areas, hosting over 40 nationalities in a population of around 4,000.
Mr Healy said that because many refugees come from rural, farming communities, like the Twa people, the transition to life in regional towns is somewhat smoother, but services are still lacking.
“They’re pretty accustomed to living in regional places and working off the land, so it’s not a huge change.
“There’s a lot of opportunities there for refugees living regionally, and people want to live regionally, but the services that are required for that just aren’t up to scratch.”
Culminating in a short film uncovering the Burundi Band’s story, ‘Clay Pot Melodies,’ and a radio documentary delving deeper into issues faced by refugees in regional Australia, Mr Healy hopes the project will aid in adding personal voices to the policy-driven news coverage we are currently fed.
“Given that journalists cannot get onto Naru or Manus Island, it’s really hard to get personal stories that help the broader community connect and empathise with these people.
“I feel like the music theme can connect with people that maybe aren’t convinced of multiculturalism in Australia, and help them see the other side of the story. And maybe even spur a change in attitude.”
Whilst Healy’s multi-platform documentary awaits a later release, Friday’s concert will allow metropolitan audiences to get to know the Burundi Band and Peace Choir in their first headline act following an acclaimed set at Camp Doogs Music Festival. Performing at St John’s Anglican Church in Fremantle, Mr Healy is convinced the environment will amplify the band’s beautiful harmonies.
“They’re not the sort of band you see in a pub, or at Mojos, or at the Bird. If you’re going to see this band you’re going to see them at an outdoor arts’ festival or something like that.
“This is an opportunity to see them in a very humble environment, which I think will be quite moving for a lot of people.”
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