Music festival on the Greek island of Chios

Opportunities for reflection

An inspirational idea from a violinist and a composer has led to the establishment of a new music festival on the Greek island of Chios. Their idea is to help build bridges between refugees and islanders – and maybe make the hard winter a little easier to bear. By Astrid Kaminski

The cellist stares at the feet of the oboist. The children and teenagers to his right and left are doing the same, as are the older boys, despite their best efforts at studied nonchalance. They look tired, but that′s hardly surprising since they had to wash their clothes between three and four in the morning.

The middle of the night is the best time to find warm water here in the so-called ′hotspot′ refugee camp in Vial on the eastern Aegean island of Chios. Despite the occasional stifled yawn, there is no let-up in practising the dance routine. The oboist Demetrios Karamintzas, who played with the Barenboim Said Academy in the Palestinian territories for many years, is rehearsing the basic steps of the dabke with them.

The musical accompaniment, an old folk song from Chios, is as unusual as the dancing musicians. The melody is performed instrumentally first of all and then sung. It is a song about an apple tree with beautiful apples. But the tree is growing on a cliff and reaching its fruit is difficult. Chiosian actress Avgoustina Lykourina acts out the dilemma through her movements and gestures.

Music and body language are the best modes of communication in this workshop group of Kurdish, Afghan, Syrian and Greek children and adolescents. And it is through this body language and the gestures that, as they grow in confidence, they are able to reveal their memories: an Afghan nursery rhyme, a Syrian ballad, a faster version of the dabke. Getting together in a room, such as here in the small philharmonic concert hall in the city of Chios, is unusual for them.

Immediate success

This past summer, violinist Olga Holdorff-Myriangou and composer Eleftherios Veniadis, both of whom have family roots on Chios and a working base in Berlin, set up the Chios Music Festival with the support of the Allianz Cultural Foundation. It was an immediate success.

Now, in late autumn, the festival is having a week-long reprise with a focus on workshops that bring native islanders and refugees together. The team, made up of an actress and seven internationally successful musicians, who also happen to be blessed with excellent social skills, is a stroke of luck.

Musicians at the Chios Music Festival 2017 (from left to right): Demetrios Karamintzas, Olga Holdorff-Myriangou, Martin Smith, Leila Weber, Spyros Tzekos (photo: Stamatis Menis)
A treat for refugees and Chios residents alike: musicians at this year′s Chios Music Festival – from left to right, Demetrios Karamintzas, Olga Holdorff-Myriangou, Martin Smith, Leila Weber and Spyros Tzekos

Demetrios Karamintzas, for example, helped create the "MitMachMusik" project for refugee children in Berlin, violist Leila Weber the "Hangarmusik" project. In Chios the team wants to use the power of music to bring people together and give them the strength to face the hard days of winter.

"For some it is hell"

"It could be a paradise here, but for some it is hell," says Olga Holdorff-Myriangou. She would like her festival, at the very least, to create happy memories. Though a modest wish, it may not be granted. The Vial camp is overcrowded and the refugees have much to endure: rain, cold, heaped up piles of rubbish, rats and inadequate sanitation and hygiene facilities.

The hotspot is located several miles outside the island capital of Chios. Designed to hold 1,100 people, it currently holds over 2,000, including around 350 children and is divided into a supervised official and a non-supervised part. While a group of men complain about the Greek police, the unaccompanied women here would like to see a greater police presence at the camp. Fear of their situation makes getting a good night′s sleep impossible.

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