Immigrant and refugee youth turn to Western Music to cross borders

Six months ago, some of them had never picked up a musical instrument.

Now, a multicultural, seven-member music ensemble composed of immigrant and refugee youth will perform a concert as part of this year’s London Fringe Festival.

Led by Gabriela Ocadiz Velazquez, a graduate student in Western University’s Don Wright Faculty of Music, a youth group from London’s Cross Cultural Learner Centre will perform ‘What YOUth Can Do’ at the Palace Theatre at 10 p.m. on Saturday, June 2.

The musical youth group is believed to the first-of-its-kind in London.

“Music can sometimes bring us together without having to use words,” says Ocadiz Velazquez, who has volunteered her time with the youth group, all of whom attend high school in the surrounding area, since last September.

Community music programs help immigrants and refugees – many of whom face language barriers, employment problems and social isolation – build bridges and connect with society.

“Many members of the group have left a terrible environment. Music helps them find their voice,” Ocadiz Velazquez says. “As a music teacher, I am simply helping make that transition a bit easier.”

At Western, Ocadiz Velazquez studies immigrant and refugee youth who participate in community music programs. Her work will help better understand their experiences, the problems they face in a new environment and how music can often sustain them through difficult times in life.

The youth group chose all of the songs, a diverse collection of covers and original compositions, for their musical performance.

“I wanted to give them complete freedom to pick songs that were meaningful for them,” Ocadiz Velazquez says. “Your past and the place you come from does not always have to define you. They are building a new community on their own now.”

Ocadiz Velazquez says it is now critical to secure support and funding from the provincial government for community music programs like hers, which is aimed at immigrant and refugee re-settlement.

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