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ROCK AND POP: Ana Silvera and torture survivors

Anna Slvera. Image: Kate Keara Pelen

Ana Silvera. Torture survivors from Iran, Cuba, Uganda, Burundi and Ethiopia. Image: Kate Keara Pelen

Published: 26 August, 2016
by ROISIN GADELRAB

TORTURE survivors from Iran, Cuba, Uganda, Burundi and Ethiopia will be bringing their stories to life through music and song at a special performance
at the Roundhouse next month.

The new work, Lost And Found, which will debut on September 2, is a musical retelling of the journeys of six clients of Finsbury Park charity Freedom from Torture, to their new lives in London, recounting their personal stories, from the tale of the violin buried by order of the Ayatollahs to the African song unwittingly sung to the occupants of a British Library reading room.

While the survivors, who will be supported by a chorus of other clients and staff of Freedom from Torture, will be involved in the performance, they do not yet feel safe enough to be identified, so the show will be binaurally recorded and turned into an audio download, to be released later this year.

The work, which focuses on themes of love, unexpected friendship, prison, laughter and music, was created by the charity’s creative writing group Write to Life, Primrose Hill singer, musician and composer Ana Silvera, and Christine Bacon, artistic director of Ice & Fire theatre company, known for its groundbreaking verbatim human rights theatre, with additional music from Alice Zowadski and Will Roberts. 

Ana, who has had a long association with the Roundhouse since artistic director Marcus Davey asked her to write a choral piece, Oracles, first read about Freedom From Torture as a child. 

She said: “They are an extraordinary charity working with those who have been tortured in their home countries and have arrived in the UK and are claiming asylum.

“I remember reading about the organisation years ago, as a north London kid, and being inspired by their work and glad it was happening, and it stuck in my memory. 

“They offer medical and psychological care as well as a range of therapeutic groups and activities.” 

More recently Ana applied for a part-time job at the charity but soon found a more suitable vocation. 

She said: “I worked hard on my application and thought it was quite good, and a couple of weeks later I got an email from [BAFTA-winning filmmaker] Sheila [Hayman who runs the writing group] saying I didn’t get the job – apparently I’d written all the wrong things – but she followed the link on the bottom of my email and really liked my music.” 

Sheila suggested meeting up, attended some of Ana’s shows and suggested she join the project. Binaural sound recordist Ruth Farrar will help create a 3D listening experience downloadable on the FfT website shortly after the show’s premiere, along with accompanying videos. The concept of Lost and Found, Ana said, was “to create a spoken word and musical work that drew on the group’s histories and present-day lives, as well as their relationship with music – what it once meant to them, whether that was a song they remember from childhood, or music that makes them happy now.

“One member visits St Pancras concourse and plays the piano – that’s a real comfort and important experience for him, something I can totally relate to myself as I’ve sat and played there for that reason before,” she added. 

“Another of the group taught me a beautiful song we’re featuring in the show that she learned as a child in her village about being alone in the world, and not knowing where her mother is. 

“She says it’s how she feels now as she lost her family in terrible circumstances, and does not know for sure who is gone and who is alive. Another remembers marching songs from when he was kidnapped and forced to become a child solider. 

“Revisiting this music, or even talking about these experiences, are all hugely evocative and affecting for everyone involved. It’s truly been a privilege to get to know and work with them all.” 

Ana’s role has been to facilitate the singing in the group and create instrumental music and original songs. She will be playing harmonium, guitar, piano and whatever else she can contribute. 

She said: “It has been a really interesting challenge. In terms of the process, I needed to find out the group’s musical passions and the associations/songs they remembered from their past, from their home countries, and also music that resonates with them today, whether that’s Kurdish love songs or Dolly Parton. 

“But I also needed to create songs for them to sing that would reflect on their experiences today living in London.”

 

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