On 23rd June 2016 we gathered in the Moor Theatre Deli for a special Verse Matters for Refugee Week and Yorkshire Festival. It was a powerful and moving event, balanced in that tense moment between the daytime voting for the EU Referendum and the results the following morning. Given the ‘Leave’ result and the rapid rise in race-related hate crimes since the vote, it is even more important that we met together to stand in solidarity against xenophobia and racism.
Sheffield was the UK’s first City of Sanctuary, and the event was part of Migration Matters, the brilliant week-long festival celebrating sanctuary in the city of steel.
The night opened with a lovely reading of the group poem, “Grapes in My Father’s Yard”, written by a group working with the Material Stories of Migration project at the University of Sheffield and performed by Dillo Ibrahim, Astrid Degan and Mihaela Moldor. It is a great project run by Veronica Barnsley and Shirin Teifouri at the University of Sheffield, and myself and Sai Murray worked with the group as they developed the poem.
Tony Bowring, chair of Arts on the Run and long-time supported of Verse Matters introduced some of the wonderful artists from the Art of Migration. The first of these was the talented Angelina Abel from Angola. Angelina performed a wonderful version of Warsan Shire’s Home with Sara Oliviero playing an excerpt from The Corrs on the violin.
Becky, Aoife & Khalidah from the inspiring Leeds Young Authors then read a range of brilliant poems, including the timely and moving “I am British Too.”
Chijioke Ojukwu, aka CJ, read some brilliant poems, ranging from love to the Yorkshire twang. Pammie Grant read for the first time after the break with two excellent poems, followed by a moving set from Rae Burgess who returned to Verse Matters to perform a featured slot after reading for the very first time back in October.
Mimi Mesfin from Ethiopia then read two beautiful poems in Amheric, and the English translations were read by Kate Marks, a volunteer for the brilliant Conversation Club at ASSIST.
The night closed with stunning performances from Bashar Farahat, a talented poet from Syria, and Mina Salama, a distinguished musician from Egypt. Mina played as Bashar read some of the most moving poems I have ever listened to. Bashar then drummed with Mina as he played a range of ancient instruments. The last set evoked sadness, anger and humour in the artists and in everyone witnessing. Angelina joined the stage to dance with one of the pieces, and it was a true privilege to witness the humility and humanity with which everyone shared their stories and talent.
Thank you to everyone who came along and shared their work and to everyone who witnessed for creating such a supportive space. There is no equality for women without racial equality. There is no racial equality without economic equality. We stand together, and are stronger together. It was a powerful event and I hope that it offers some strength in the difficult and dark times to come.
Photo Credits: Joseph