Former asylum seeker Mabel Chah to launch EP in Sligo

Cameroonian singer who arrived here in 2013 says music helped her through bad times

Mabel Chah has teamed up with Sligo musician Owen Kilfeather, who has put together a band for the launch of her EP. Photograph: James Connolly

Mabel Chah has teamed up with Sligo musician Owen Kilfeather, who has put together a band for the launch of her EP. Photograph: James Connolly

 

Mabel Chah had been living in direct provision for a year when she was asked to sing Amhrán na bhFiann, the Irish national anthem, at the opening of the All-Ireland Fleadh in Sligo in 2014.

The Cameroonian singer/songwriter long ago learned that music – and food – are ways of bringing people together.

While living in Globe House direct provision centre in Sligo, she was one of the driving forces behind Sligo Global Kitchen. An idea dreamed up by artist Anna Spearman, it gave asylum seekers an opportunity to cook their own dishes in the kitchen of The Model arts centre and invite the local community to share a meal.

“I love food but I love music more,” says Chah, who joined Sligo Gospel choir and Sligo Cathedral choir while living in Globe House. Her reputation as a singer soon grew.

Joining-in is Chah’s default position and not surprisingly there is a community feel to her musical endeavours. She has just got a degree in business administration from IT Sligo and dozens of fellow students from across the globe including Asia, Africa, Europe, America, Canada and Australia, as well as Sligo-based asylum seekers and refugees, are featuring with her in a video. It was made by IT Sligo Performing Arts student Michael Bonner in the Adelaide Street car park using a local landmark the “Shligo Shtyle” mural as a backdrop.

She launches an EP of her own compositions next Friday.

She has teamed up with Sligo musician Owen Kilfeather, who has put together a band for the occasion. “No one will be sitting down when the music is playing. They will want to dance,” she promises.

Title track

Another IT Sligo Performing Arts student, Maureen Henry, joins her on vocals for the title track of the EP From Zero to Hero.

“I think the college found it interesting that a business student was doing something creative,” said the singer who is set to return to the college to do an honours degree in human resource management.

Chah, who arrived in Ireland in 2013, says music has always helped her through the bad times “instead of always pining for six years, thinking of my family still in Cameroon where there is complete chaos and civil unrest”.

In Cameroon she had been been a member of a hip hop band Baam which toured many African countries and made an album in Paris. Finding herself without family and sharing a room with a stranger in Sligo was a difficult time.

But Chah says she was lucky to have spent just two years in direct provision. One friend from Cameroon spent seven years in the system and “still struggles “ as a result, while another friend from her home country was in the direct provision system for 11 years. “He is strong and is doing well but it is too long,” she says.

‘Too long’

Chah is unsure if scrapping direct provision is the answer.

“Some say abolish it but would that just mean changing the name?” she says. “Every country has a right to know who is coming there. But people should be processed in six months – not five years or seven years or 11 years. That is too long.”

Six years after arriving in Ireland, Chah says Sligo is home and she has found special places there that lift her spirits. “For peace and tranquillity I love the chapel in Sligo cathedral. I have written a song just sitting there. And I love The Model. That’s my go-to place if anyone wants to meet me.”