Irish women unite 350 migrants in song in Bern
350 people from 40 countries come together in Switzerland for One River Voices
Shirley Grimes and Clíodhna Ní Aodáin have been living in Switzerland since the 1990s. Photograph: Daniel Rihs.
I grew up in 1980s Ireland listening to the songs of Paul Brady and Christy Moore, telling stories of Irish emigrants who weren’t all as lucky as I have been. It seemed to me back then as if young people were leaving the country in floods in search of a better life, all willing to work hard for it.
I also remember many coming home again. “You can’t live without love, without love, alone,” wrote Jimmy MacCarthy. The Irish have built cities all over the world but despite this huge accomplishment, many have also experienced what it means to feel unwanted in a foreign country. For many years, we were the refugees of Europe.
Although Clíodhna Ní Aodáin and I both moved to Switzerland within a few years of each other (she arrived in 1998, I in ‘91) it took until 2014 for our paths to finally cross. Clíodhna is both a teacher and performer of classical cello and conducts two orchestras in Bern, where we both live. I am a contemporary singer-songwriter and vice-president of MSS, a political organisation representing musicians. It wasn’t until I invited Clíodhna to play on the recordings of my last album in 2015 that we finally got to work together, and our friendship began to evolve.
When I hear the words “Syrian refugees”, my heart aches and I feel a deep helplessness. So, when Clíodhna came to my home in late January of this year with tears in her eyes after hearing about the travel bans against Muslims announced that morning in the US, and a need to ‘DO’ something, I was more than ready to get creative.
She had the idea to invite people from as many different nations and religions as possible, to come together in the centre of Bern in song. Over several cups of tea, we worked on a plan to make that happen. Our vision was to gather 200 people to spend a day together, learn and record a song, have lunch and make a simple video of our shared experiences that we could send out into the world as a message of unity, respect, tolerance and love.
Within a month, we had a team of over 40 professional musicians, technicians, camera men, editors, drone pilots, photographers, caterers, graphic designers and helpers, all willing to give their time and resources to the “One River Voices” project, for free. We recorded the music and my vocal to a song I wrote called “One River”, and Clíodhna arranged and conducted the music and recordings for strings, flute and choir. We printed flyers and started to spread the word.
‘I am a voice’
On May 7th, more than 350 people from 40 nations joined us to celebrate human diversity through music. When people come together to make music, language, culture, bias and fear are all replaced with a feeling of togetherness. It was an incredibly moving event. People were reminded that they have a voice, and can use it to have a positive effect in this world. Through music, the true potential of a human race that respects diversity and tolerates the unknown, becomes obvious. We were all reminded of this on the day, and the two videos made of the event have already reminded thousands more online.
Our hope is that people will be inspired to create their own “One River Voices” experience, be it at a local pub, community centre, or around a kitchen table. We have created the onerivervoices.com website where the score, lyrics and individual playback tracks are all available for download, free of charge. We are asking people to make a video of their event, big or small, send it to us and we will release it on social media. Already, people from Germany, France and England have made their own videos, and bands from Senegal and Finland, among others, are also working on versions.
The fear propaganda with which we are constantly confronted often makes us forget that we, as human beings, all have the same basic needs; we all love our children and we all want to feel safe, no matter what our ethnic or religious background is. No one person has a higher claim on basic human rights than another. “One River Voices” has so far given hundreds of people a platform to proclaim their belief in a future where walls are not built, but broken down.