- 17 Dec 20
A special Christmas event for asylum seekers was run recently via Zoom. Presented by Suzane Savage and Shane Casey, it turned out to be an eye-opening insight into the talents of many of these too often neglected people.
Last weekend, musician Suzanne Savage (pictured) and actor Shane Casey, of Young Offenders infamy, hosted a Zoom show featuring the artistic talents of asylum seekers in Ireland.
It was an extraordinary event from every perspective. As it transpired, there was a flurry of Christmas good cheer on the Zoom call’s group chat, as artists, one by one, performed from their rooms inside Direct Provisions centres across the country.
Suzanne Savage, wearing a red, sequin jacket, sang and entertained from her own living room, managing superbly even through the seemingly inevitable technical glitches of Zoom shows. The Belfast-born musician treated her audience – which included volunteers from the refugee advocacy group, Abolish Direct Provision as well as the performing artists – with a vibrant rendition of holiday classic ‘Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas’.
Dublin alternative band Echo’s Bones – yes, their music is as melancholy as Samuel Becketts’s short story of the same name! – also made a Zoom appearance. Singing from a dimly lit room, the band's vocalist Sara O'Loughlin battled successfully with the effects of a dislocated shoulder. It was, after all, in a good cause.
Galwegian actor, dancer and drama coach, Paula McGlinchey, was the chief organiser of the refugee talent show.
“Shows like these provide a platform for asylum seekers to showcase their hidden talent, and as an outlet to express creatively, their difficult experiences in Direct Provision,” McGlinchey explained.
The idea stemmed from a series of virtual lockdown sessions organised by Abolish Direct Provision in which some asylum seekers sang; McGlinchey taught drama; and, McGlinchey explained, “My sister Afric came to help with creative writing.” Afric is a poet, writer and teacher.
The organisers are now planning to form an online drama troupe for talented asylum seekers, McGlinchey told Hot Press.
"We will be developing a theatrical piece set around Direct Provision, which has become our modern-day Magdalene Laundries," Paula added.
One asylum seeker from Malawi, who is staying in a Direct Provision Centre in Co Mayo, was among the artists who performed – in her case alongside two other women from her centre.
The singer, who is pregnant, performed her own composition, ‘One Love’. She said that the ballad is inspired by her desire to work in Ireland, so she can buy a nice buggy, toys and clothes for her baby. Her original asylum application was refused and she has been going through the appeal process for the past year. As a result, she no longer has the right to work in Ireland.
“When they refuse you, they cannot give you the right to work,” she explained.
She also pointed out that the Government grants €150 to new mothers to cover the costs of buggy and baby clothes – but most mothers, she says, rely on the kindness of volunteers and their donations.
The singer's voice is warm and lovely. She often breaks spontaneously into song. She told Hot Press that she is hoping to pursue a career in music one day.
She sang on the Zoom show: “We need rights to work/ Rights to drive/ We need rights/ As we’re human beings."
Some of the Abolish Direct Provision volunteers also performed. Among them was Gráinne Ní Chonchúir, who sang the classic Irish song – about the often-unspeakable grief of losing your love to a bigger country – ‘Siúil a Rúin’ (which translates as Walk My Love). Suzanne Savage noted that the song really is a seasonal classic, weaved into the fabric of traditional Irish Christmases.
Dancers and Poets
Korina, a 20-year-old mother from South Africa, played a video of herself dancing to a fusion of deep house and Jazz, while wearing a bandana and a face mask. Praising her moves, Young Offenders star Shane Casey joked that the music took him back to his younger days dancing in Cork city’s former iconic night club Sir Henry’s.
It was a joke that Korina appreciated.
Jenny was another fiercely impressive dancer with flying moves which were finely coordinated. Shane Casey was visibly enthralled.
Beauty, another asylum seeker, had pre-recorded her own poem ‘My Black Skin’ for the show. Her words were reminiscent of the late African-American poet June Jordan’s ‘Poem about My Rights’. "I have been the wrong sex,” Jordan wrote, “the wrong age, the wrong skin, the wrong nose, the wrong hair, the wrong need, the wrong dream, the wrong geographic, the wrong sartorial" – before then unapologetically declaring: “I am not wrong/ wrong is not my name.”
In her own poem, Beauty conveyed the same spirit of defiance in the face of racial discrimination and the redemptive discovery of love for oneself and one’s skin colour. It is an ode to self-determination: “My black skin,” she read, “they will torment you/ But they can’t break you/ Your strength scares them.”
In the poem, Beauty also compares racism to sun rays. The sun cannot easily pierce through dark skin: she will remain unphased by racism, looking life in the eye.
Nasreen, from South Africa, who lives in a Direct Provision Centre in Co Clare with her husband, also delivered a poem ‘Towards the Declining Light’, coupled with a video which documented the process of painting the sunset and two people walking to the heart of it.”
Her inspiration for the sonnet was the legendary Irish poet, William Butler Yeats.
The winner of €500 prize, however. was Damian. His poem set out to chronicle his journey as a 24-year-old engineer with a head full of ambitions in his home country to his dreamless days as an asylum seeker in Ireland.
“Within five months the interview came,” the poem runs, “work permit can no more claim/ 26-year-old jobless in Direct Provision/ for my own life can take no decisions.
“Two years ago, planning to change my car/ god knows today I can’t think that far/ have forgotten every hobby every dream/ don’t make me talk about my self-esteem.”
Various professional poets also contributed to the show, reading from the book Correspondence, an anthology of asylum seekers' essay, poems, and photography, created under the mentorship of the country's writers, poets and photographers.
Activists at Movement of Asylum Seekers Ireland (MASI) had made the correspondence between Irish creatives and asylum seekers possible. The end result was pretty special.