Darfur CD Project | Taking Action

Taking Action

A community forum on Darfur inspires an audience to pitch in.

 
  Linda Mason talks about Darfur while images from the trip are displayed.
  Photo by Phil Farnsworth
   

For two weeks this past winter, a group of Boston women traveled through crisis-stricken Darfur to better understand the needs of women in that region. When a crowd of people gathered recently for a community forumabout the trip, they learned in heart-rending detail about the terrible conditions for women in Darfur, but they also witnessed their extraordinary resiliency and learned that music written by Berklee students helped them forget their troubles for a brief moment.

It was about midway through the trip in late January and early February when the Boston delegation—award-winning TV journalist Liz Walker; Bright Horizons chair Linda Mason, whose husband Roger Brown is Berklee's president; Rev. Dr. Gloria E. White-Hammond; and Mercy Corps global emergency operations officer Susan Romanski—played a recording of two songs for women in one of Darfur's refugee camps. The scene was captured on video by Walker, who was filming a documentary about life in the camps.

The women listened intently to the music, which had been translated into the native language, and when it was over, they answered with a musical message of their own.

"The women of Darfur, despite the violence against them, sang and danced for us. A sign of hope," said Walker just after showing the video during A Call to Listen, A Call to Action: Women's Voices from Darfur. The footage provided one of the most inspiring messages of an event that was designed to be as interactive as it was informative. The idea was to get people to do something about Darfur.

Mistress of ceremonies Nisrin Elamin, of the Darfur Peace and Development Group, summed up the event's dual purpose during a speech: "Tonight is not just about raising awareness, it's about not forgetting," she said.

Berklee student singer/songwriter Farah Siraj expressed similar sentiments while introducing her song, "To the Sudanese Women," one of the two taken to Darfur by the travelers. Siraj kicked off the forum by performing the hauntingly beautiful song with her group NUR, featuring fellow Berklee students Walid Zairi and Guc Gulle.

"This song addresses the strength and patience that she has in her eyes, and that we have not forgotten the suffering, pain and endurance of her and her children," said Siraj before performing.

Siraj's song and "We Are All Connected," by student Andrea Whaley, were selected from several compositions submitted by Berklee students in a songwriting competition launched by the Berklee Women's Network and the Songwriting Department. The plan was to present the music to women there as a way of helping create a connection between women in Darfur and America.

Susan Romanski (left) and Liz Walker at A Call to Listen, A Call to Action
Photo by Phil Farnsworth
 

"We played this music and it was overwhelming," said Mason, who kept an online diary of the trip. "If you can imagine these women who are living through hell, who feel that...no one understands what they're going through. To hear these songs, of women singing to them, there were tears, there was trilling, there was ululating. And then at the end, one of the women summed it up for all of them. She said, 'When I see you Westerners come to see us, we feel ashamed, we are poor, we are dirty, we have no shoes, our robes are torn and we're ashamed. But when we hear you singing to us, you have captured our emotions to the utmost, we are no longer ashamed and we feel that you are our sisters.' So that's why we're here today, to support our sisters."

 
  Rev. Dr. Gloria White-Hammond
  Photo by Phil Farnsworth
    

At one point during the trip, Mason made field recordings of the women from Darfur. Upon her return, Mason made the recordings available to Berklee musicians, who are creating compositions that incorporate the audio. The collaboration will result in a CD, which will be used to raise aid for and awareness of the Darfur crisis. The ongoing strife in the Darfur region of Sudan has been going on since the 1980s. Mercy Corps' Romanski tackled the near impossible task of breaking down the history of the region in just a few minutes. Hardest hit by the current conflict are the Darfurian women and children.

"They are very strong women," Mason said. "They told me, 'If we weren't so strong, we would all be dead.' They want to learn new skills, create income, and provide for their families. This is where we all can help. We can help support programs for women in these camps to learn new skills, to take control of their lives." At the end of the evening, the We Are All Connected Ensemble, composed of Berklee faculty, staff, and students, led the audience in a rousing chorus of Whaley's song. Inspiring the audience to take action right then and there, A Call to Listen, A Call to Action ensured that the women at the center of the conflict in Darfur would not be forgotten.

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Margot Edwards is a publicist in Berklee's Office of Public Information.