Tammam Al Ramadan was 19 when the civil war broke out in Syria. He stayed in Aleppo for another two years before the situation became unbearable. Seated across the table he smiles at me, speaks with a soft mellow voice that resembles that of a storyteller by the campfire.
We are in the cafe of Ancienne Belgique in downtown Brussels. Today, Wednesday February 6th, the ASBL Muziekpublique has released Amina, the 2nd album of Refugees for Refugees.
“I started playing the ney when I was ten,” he says. “My father was a professional musician and he toured the world. He was the one who instilled in me the love for music.” The ney is an end-blown flute typically played in the Middle East.
“For me this project means an opportunity to show a part of my culture, my country, not only the negative aspects, the war, which is what many people focus on these days. But there is a lot more,” says Tammam.
First started in 2015, Refugees For Refugees brings together ten musicians from Syria, Tibet, Pakistan, Iraq, Afghanistan and Belgium. They have developed an original repertoire that shows the richness of their different traditions and cultures.
“Back in 2015, at the peak of the refugee crisis, there was this negative vibe in the air and the same time you have all these people who were forced to leave their countries, and who have so many talents and skills,” said Muziekpublique director, Peter Van Rompaey. “Why don’t we in Belgium make us of that talent?”
Amina is the result of two years of collaboration. A new chapter in the Refugees for Refugees story. The album includes lively Afghan popular songs, nomadic Tibetan chants, the subtleties of the Turkish oud, the delicate sounds of the ney from Aleppo and Baghdad.
Each of the musicians has had a very rich and intricate life. Plenty of them possess more than their musicals skills. “Besides music I studied mechanical engineering,” says Tammam. “I studied three and half years but then the war started and my city was destroyed. At least now I can share my music with the people in Belgium.”
But the project has not been without challenges. “Yes, in the beginning there were some bumps in the road,” says Tristan Driessens, artistic director of Refugees for Refugees. “There were some cultural misunderstandings but we knew deep down we could all trust each other because we were on this together. And that applies to humankind in general.”
On Saturday 16th, Refugees for Refugees will perform at Ancient Belgique at 8pm.
“I see this is as a gift,” said Peter Van Romapey. “With their music they bring something for us, for our society. And our lives are enriched by that.”