Weekly Feature



2016-12-21 / Lifestyles

Music in Exile looks to tell story of refugees

by LUCY LOPEZ Reporter


Alqosh, an Assyrian Christian village in Iraq, was one of the places Alex Ebsary and his partner, Sasha Ingber, visited on their Music in Exile trip. The first presentation where people can hear the stories of refugee musicians will take place at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 27, at North Presbyterian Church, 300 N. Forest Road, Williamsville. Alqosh, an Assyrian Christian village in Iraq, was one of the places Alex Ebsary and his partner, Sasha Ingber, visited on their Music in Exile trip. The first presentation where people can hear the stories of refugee musicians will take place at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 27, at North Presbyterian Church, 300 N. Forest Road, Williamsville. After serendipitously meeting at a metro stop in Washington, D.C., three years ago, Alex Ebsary and Sasha Ingber have traveled the world to film the stories of refugee musicians.

Ebsary is an Amherst native and graduate of Amherst High School. He has spent more than three years living in Turkey and the Kurdistan region of Iraq as a student, researcher and teacher. He has a master’s degree in Kurdish studies from the University of Exeter and is the director of public and academic affairs at the Kurdistan Regional Government Representation in the United States.

With Ingber’s background as a multimedia journalist — as associate editor of the Smithsonian culture magazine Journeys, producing video for National Geographic and an interest in telling people’s stories — the pair were able to put their program, Music in Exile, into action.

The concept for Music in Exile was born when Ebsary heard a Syrian refugee play a saz, a guitar-like instrument, during a trip to the Domiz refugee camp in 2013.

“I thought, how can we bring music to the West and a larger audience so people can see how talented these refugees are,” he said.

Their first trip, which occurred in October, was to the Kurdistan region of Iraq, where more than 1.8 million Syrians and Iraqis have found refuge.

Their first Music in Exile presentation will take place at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 27, at North Presbyterian Church, 300 N. Forest Road, Williamsville.

Since the Washington, D.C.-based couple is coming home for the holidays, they decided this would be the perfect opportunity to begin sharing the Music in Exile stories.

“North Presbyterian has a long history of advocating on behalf of refugees. Ordinarily we have done that with refugees who have arrived here to rebuild their lives. But with the unprecedented growth of the refugee population in the world, we wonder how it’s possible to support people languishing in refugee camps around the world,” said the Rev. Bill Hennessy, pastor of North Presbyterian Church.

“Alex and Sasha have created a unique and innovative way to provide needed relief to people in these circumstances that can help make their lives more bearable by connecting them to their cultural traditions through music.”

Along with Ebsary’s brother, Kurt, who mixes the recorded music and Joosung Kwon, a Korean-American documentary filmmaker from London, the two-week trip resulted in the recording of 16 refugee musicians, some professional and some using music as their expression of hope.

“One of the interesting things about this project is that we’re dealing with some universal themes here,” Ingber said.

“We’re talking about home, we’re talking about this idea of belonging and having to leave that. These are themes everyone can relate to, and it makes it much more powerful that we have so much in common with these displaced people.”

The group secured access to a number of refugee camps, and the locals were informed that if they had some kind of musical talent and would like to be recorded, they had the opportunity to do so. Sometimes they would be greeted with more people willing to participate than they expected.

Ingber said one of the most inspiring stories for her was Dilan, a 14-year-old boy who said music is the only thing he has in life.

His father had been imprisoned in Syria twice after trying to travel to Europe to get money for a surgery to correct his visual impairment.

“This boy just had really bad luck. He was caught in one of the worst wars in modern history, but he has so many friends and he loves music. You could tell how much it meant to him,” she said.

Another musician they came across was an older man named Hassan who had traveled the world as a professional musician. He could never really play his own music in Syria since Kurdish music was banned.

“He had to flee with his family. This career that was taking off had to be put on hold,” Ebsary said. “He now teaches kids in the camp how to play music and plays at weddings, but there was this palpable sadness about him.”

Ingber says they were able to connect on Facebook with some of the people they met, and Ebsary’s brother is going to send some of them the music he mixed of the recordings.

They are happy with the mark they left in Iraq, but what’s next? Currently Music in Exile is trying to obtain a nonprofit status.

Whether the group travels back to the Middle East, finds refugees in other parts of the world or even here in the U.S., Ebsary and Ingber are ready to bring Music in Exile to the masses.

For more information or to see some of the stories they found, visit www.musicinexile.com

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