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Activist works to empower refugees through music

musicactivism_ssThis Tuesday, composer, pianist and humanitarian Sophia Serghi flew from the East Coast to share her story of discovering refugee musicians with a diverse group from the USC and Los Angeles community. Serghi, who is a professor of music theory and composition at the College of William and Mary, traveled in 2009 to Kenya as a volunteer to repair an orphanage’s kitchen in the village of Kiberia, while also hoping to meet Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai. In Kiberia, there are many refugees from surrounding African nations, such as Somalia and Ethiopia, currently in political strife.

During this trip, Serghi brought along multiple instruments to play as well as a microphone, which the orphans and refugee children took an interest in. The children took turns with the microphone and rapped about their families as well as experiences of which social workers had not previously been aware of. This experience inspired Serghi to continue to promote the healing elements of music in refugee communities, and especially the power of voice in song as a method of communication and overcoming trauma.

When asked what problem she is trying to solve and why, Serghi said, “The abolition of indifference, because I am passionate about the human potential.”

Originally from the Republic of Cyprus in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, Serghi allowed her curiosity about people to develop into a documentary called Voice Out of Silence. She organized a GoFundMe, which, according to its page, aims to “create an online documentary series to promote amazingly talented musicians who perform on City Streets and other venues and create sustainable funding opportunities for them.” The fundraiser managed to collect $10,650. In the process of making this documentary, Serghi organized a Street Music Festival in the divided city of Nicosia, which is Turkish in the north and Greek in the south, mediated by a United Nations buffer zone. The music ranged from traditional Greek and Turkish music to jazz to American country, and the musicians were well received by the public, with the exception of a few encounters with the police. To Serghi’s surprise, this was the first event of its type to be organized in Cyprus.

The documentary continued in Israel where it was Serghi’s goal to find the street musician whose photo was featured in her GoFundMe campaign. Upon arriving in Israel, Serghi and her team explored the streets and eventually found the man, Dor, surrounded by other musicians with a vast variety of instruments from around the world. In Jerusalem, Serghi encountered an Israeli soldier playing a Greek instrument called a bouzouki and singing a Greek song. The soldier said he had never been to Greece, but simply wanted to spend time playing beautiful music before returning to his barracks.  

Eventually, the title changed from Voice Out of Silence to Music on the Move and is a continuous project by Serghi and her team. Serghi said her next destination is Egypt.