For some the 'jungle' has been the first time in their lives where they have picked up instruments and started creating and expressing. Repeated strumming or uncontrolled drumming has provided sanctuary and enjoyment, even if it is cacophony to the passer-by!
Right from the first sessions in September 2015 it was as an important aim of ours to get as many people playing as possible and in some kind of ordered way.
It works two ways too. Whilst we hold beginner guitar workshops, drum circles, attempt nursery aged musical sessions and even give cello lessons, our musical development is more than catered for. New scales and modes are taught to us and exotic rhythms and time signatures drummed into us. It's always a challenge and a learning experience.
I spent the weekend at the Calais 'Jungle'. Yes, it's still there. Several thousand people who have fled the chaos caused by those who have plenty of money for wars in the Middle East and Africa, and now for barbed wire on the channel coast. I met some wonderful people: Abidkhan, Azama, Atieyb, Agely, Passel, and many others. I went there with Calais Sessions musicians, brilliantly organised by Vanessa Lucas-Smith, Carl Burgess and … the list is long. Much of the weekend sessions were recorded by Danny Rowe who managed to contribute bass guitar to his recording work. The studio was a makeshift hut whose plastic roof flapped its rhythm to the music below. I spent some of the time 'teaching' guitar, but quickly roles were reversed. After 30 minutes of C, G, A and F chords, Assi thanked me, smiled and asked if I'd like to learn Ethiopian Tizita pentatonic scales. I wrote them down and am already playing them – badly! The conditions there are terrible and the stories I listened to as bad. Atieyb who had brought his guitar on the long journey north. It only had two strings. Next visit – take some strings. One young Syrian didn't want to play guitar, but told me he liked to be close to music. 'It gives me', he said, 'sanity'. Why did he want to get to the UK. All his family had been killed – 'I don't want to talk about that, but my sister is in Bristol. I want to go there.' Can anyone give me one reason why he shouldn't? His only chance right now is to find £5000 for the armed smuggling gangs whose white vans can be seen 'hanging out' on the surrounding roads. Guaranteed passage is £8000. But payment in cash and up front. The situation is disgusting.
David Wilson - writer, playwright, activist, former director of the Pavarotti music centre and co-founder of War Child - came with us on a recent sessions. He jammed, taught, learnt and mucked in and shares his experience and thoughts here:
As well as the talented and trained musicians we have recorded and collaborated with there are countless others for whom playing music has never been possible. For us, growing up with music, honing our craft and having the freedom to play (neighbours permitting!) is a far cry from a place where opportunities are non existent or even that music is forbidden. Where playing can be punished by censorship, torture, threats and worse. For us, it's unimaginable, but it is a truth that we have sadly become accustomed to hearing and have seen the physical and mental scars to prove it.
Guitar group debut
Music sessions are nothing without instruments to play on. Some wonderful people rounded up instruments, fundraised and donated guitars to the project, which enabled the beginner guitar group to have their first performance! Thank you Sarah aka Fanny Hatstand, Teresa Marks and the guys from Guitars for refugees in Europe. Carl Burgess, Carolina Ferrer, Jesus Bellosta Flores, Danny Rowe, David Wilson, Susie Butt and all the budding guitarists in the 'jungle' - Great job!
Photo: Sarah Hickson
Photo: Sarah Emma Smith