Documentary Film: The Sounds of Hospitality

Dir. Michel Gasco and Parisa Deslshad

The documentary film is about six migrant musicians in the UK, the Netherlands and Spain. They tell us stories about their lives back home and what led them to their host countries as they play their music and sing their songs. The distinct and diverse range of melodies and instruments that our musicians, Linda al-Ahmad and Jawa Manla from Syria, Nizar Rohana from Palestine, Babak Kamgar from Iran and Soleiman Haqpana and Ajmair Nikzad from Afghanistan, share with us in this film reflect the special moment that Europe is experiencing.

Our experience as music researchers, documentary film makers and musicians, as students of levantine Arabic, as well as Afghan and Iranian musical traditions, allowed us to identify and encourage individuals to be part of this project. First, we chose and contacted 12 musicians, 2 of whom didn’t want to appear in the film and with another two, it was imposible to schedule the filming. Then we recorded the remaining 8 and started reviewing all the interviews and narrowed them down to six musicians who were the most interesting.

The musicians

The musicians are: Jawa Manla, who plays with her sister Shaza in the video. She is an Oud player from Syria. After the war broke out, she left her hometown of Damascus in 2012 for Cairo, Egyp,t and ended up in a refugee center in the Netherlands. She studies music at Kodarts music conservatory and plays with several bands. She speaks Arabic, English and Dutch.

The Palestinian virtuoso Oud player, Nizar Rohana, is the former Director of the Palestinian national music conservatory in Jerusalem. He came to Europe looking for new musical experiences and ended up living in Utrecht, where he is writing his PhD dissertation and performing all over Europe. He was raised bilingual in Arabic and Hebrew, and speaks English.

Soleiman Haqpana is a Tabla player from Kabul, Afghanistan. He learnt to play the Tabla in Pakistan, where he and his family took refuge when the Taliban came to power. He immigrated to the UK as an adult when he married his wife, and got his master’s degree in London. He grew up bilingual in Dari and Pashtu and is fluent in English and also Urdu, which he picked up in Pakistan.

At around the same time when Soleiman migrated to Peshawar, Pakistan, Ajmair Nikzad’s father was killed in an airstrike. Ajmair was about a year old when his family left Kabul for London. There, he learnt to play the Harmonium from musicians who frequent the parties of Afghan and Indian communities in London. He grew up bilingual in English and Dari.

Babak Kamgar is an Iranian musician who left his hometown of Tabriz and sought asylum in the Netherlands, where he lived for 16 years. He learnt to play the Tar in Iran and continued his musical studies in Europe. When he fell in love with a Spanish woman, he moved to Madrid, where he lives now. He grew up bilingual in Turkish and Farsi and is fluent in Dutch, Spanish and English.

Linda al-Ahmad lived in Damascus, Syria when the war broke out. She left Syria with her family and settled in Beirut, Lebanon, where she decided to take music more seriously and studied with a professional singing master. After four years, she left Beirut and sought asylum in Madrid. Her first concert was in Madrid, where she lives now. She Speaks Arabic, English and Spanish.

All the musicians welcomed us. This was not surprising, though. Parisa herself is an immigrant from Iran, living in Spain. Michel has lived, worked and studied in Syria, Turkey and Iran. So, obviously what we learnt was not related to their countries and cultures, but to Europe. We travelled to different European cities, and not only did our own perception of Spain change, but we ended up firmly believing that immigration can actively help to rescue Europe and liberate it from its Eurocentrism toward global emancipation.