‘Imagine:Imagine’ is a global music project that brings together over 120 performers from all over the world. Their music video celebrates diversity and expresses solidarity to displaced communities across the globe. 

By Abir Soleiman, IOM United Kingdom

Walk with me is a song written during lockdown that honours the unsung heroes of the pandemic. This new song is part of the Imagine:Imagine project, a global music initiative that brings together over 120 performers from all over the world. The project was launched by Together Productions and I Speak Music during the UK’s Refugee Week 2020 with support from IOM UK.  

People around the world were invited to participate in the creation of a new music video in solidarity with displaced communities, celebrating diversity and the extraordinary contributions of all those who have travelled and made their home in new lands. People from the UK, Egypt, Syria, Iran, South Africa, El Salvador, Mexico, Jordan, Afghanistan, France, Gaza, the US, Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium sent in their contributions. All these artistic contributions and acts of solidarity were then edited into a final music video by Academy and Emmy Award nominated director Leslie Knott and acclaimed director, writer and producer Ben Gregor

Behind the scenes of this video are many artists and performers from all over the world who answered the call to participate in the Imagine:Imagine project. Some of them have been forced to flee their homes due to conflict. Others have been relentlessly working in their own communities, using their talent and skills to give hope to those living in vulnerable situations. Yet all of them speak the common language of music and chose to use it to send a powerful message of peace and solidarity with displaced communities all around the world.  

Their stories are a strong reminder of the talent, resilience and dedication of the diverse displaced communities across the globe. 

DABU (René Edenilson Rivas Aparicio) is a rapper from El Salvador. As a musician, he uses his skills to support his community. He uses rap to work with young people who are in vulnerable situations to empower them and help them to express themselves through the language of music.    

MASOUD DANYIALI is a musician from Iran who inherited a passion for music from his family. He is a singer and multi-instrumentalist and is now passing this passion for art and music on to his children.  

RAGHAD HADDAD is a viola player from Yabroud, a small town in the mountains to the north of Damascus in Syria. She is now based in the United Kingdom, where she has recently performed with Damon Albarn, The Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra and The Orchestra of Syrian Musicians.  She is the Artistic Director of the renowned I Speak Music Orchestra. Along with other musicians from this orchestra, Raghad is one of the authors of the song “Walk with me”. 

BASSEL HADDAD is a multi-instrumentalist from Syria. He started to learn music when he was just 6 years old and has been teaching it from the age of 18. Despite the war that was raging around him, in 2013 he set up a choir for children with his sister Raghad - the Sada Choir. In the last couple of years, he has been working extensively on projects with homeless children in Syria, teaching them to play music and sing. Bassel has contributed to the music video along with his students in the Sada Choir.  

What have been the biggest challenges as well as the highlights of your personal and musical journey? 

DABU: I have always loved making rap music. In my area, there is a lack of opportunities, therefore I have taught myself. This learning process has been a great challenge for me, but it has also allowed me to explore different methodologies. I have been working with different people from different backgrounds and communities here in El Salvador, especially people in vulnerable situations. I truly believe that music, and more specifically rap, can give people the opportunity to freely express themselves. What I have noticed is that when people listen to themselves singing, they begin to perceive themselves in a different way, and this is incredibly empowering.  

MASOUD: Ever since I was a child, music has always been a very big part of the life of my family. I started to discover music thanks to my mother. At the time, our situation was difficult and it has been really challenging to develop my artistic skills and turn my passion into a job. My two children now have more opportunities than I had; they are studying music as a main subject and are very good percussionists, as you can see in the video! Despite all the financial difficulties, I run a music shop and have also managed to create a recording studio where myself as well as other artists can work to produce our own music.

RAGHAD:  During my personal and musical journey I encountered many challenges. I was living in Syria when the war started, and I was far from where I lived. Every single day, I had to undertake a very unsafe journey to get to work, often coming across bombings and fighting on my way. Every single day, I prayed God to let me go back to my family safely. One day I vividly remember being with my colleagues backstage at the Opera House in Damascus. Many people were killed and injured in the city that day, but we had to play anyway, because it was our job. That was the hardest day for me.  

After I left Syria and moved to the UK, I encountered the challenges of having to rebuild my life in a new country, in a new language, in a new community. I was safe of course, but I also lost many things: my family, friends, and my career. When I had the opportunity to work again and start my career as a musician here, I was finally able to create new social and professional connections. 

BASSEL: Here in Syria many people love music, but not everybody has the financial ability to learn or help their children learn it. The conflict is forcing many people to live in extreme conditions. Despite the war going on around us, with my sister Raghad I set up a wonderful choir for children, the Sada Choir, and we also set up a choir for adults. In the last couple of years, I have been working with many homeless children, teaching them to play music and sing, and they also joined the existing Sada Choir for a project. Being able to bring together the homeless children with other children was inspiring, because I witnessed them sharing this experience with joy, regardless of the fact that they were coming from very different walks of life.  

Over 120 performers from the UK, Egypt, Syria, Iran, South Africa, El Salvador, Mexico, Jordan, Afghanistan, France, Gaza, the US, Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium have sent in their contributions for the Imagine:Imagine project. 

Why did you participate in this act of art and solidarity with displaced communities all around the world? 

DABU:As with many artists and musicians, the lockdown has meant for me a lack of interactions, and not being able to do my work or perform as usual. This has had a very bad impact on my emotions and feelings. I really lost a lot of the work I was doing. The opportunity to collaborate on this project has really lifted my spirit up. It made me realise that I had my microphone and I could still use it communicate and express myself. From a personal perspective, the remote recording practice has also taught me how to use new applications for my work. But more importantly, I love working with people from all over the world and contributing to international projects such as the Imagine:Imagine project.  
Last, but not least, El Salvador is a beautiful country, and it is great to be able to show its beauty in this global video 

MASOUD: The fact that artists were joining in the project from different parts of the world, made me feel that we are part of the same community, and that through music we could raise our voices together. This project really shows that music has no borders. I strongly believe that music is the most powerful tool you can use to communicate.  

RAGHAD: What prompted us to write this song initially is that we felt we wanted to thank all the key workers in this pandemic, then the project expanded to express solidarity with all the communities that are underrepresented and whose voices are not heard. This was particularly important for me, because when I had to leave my country and move to the UK, at the beginning, I really felt the pain of being in a weak position and not being heard. This feeling is quite common to people who are forced to leave their homes; there is a real loss of identity that is not easy to overcome. Music has enabled me to be recognised by society here in the UK. I believe that music can give voice to the voiceless and is a powerful tool to help those who experience the trauma of loss to express themselves.  

BASSEL: For me and my students, it is very important to be part of this artistic project, because music is a very important tool that is available to all communities and cultures.  In this project we have been able to share our culture and music along with our own challenges, pains, moments of sadness and moments of happiness. It has represented a very important moment of contact with others.  

The song for the video “Walk with Me” has been created for the Imagine:Imagine project by members of the I Speak Music Community Orchestra, led by Jim Pinchen, Liz Ikamba and Raghad Haddad. This cinematic pop song fuses different styles of music including Arabic, Latino, hip hop and western classical. “The video holds a strong message of unity – says Raghad Haddad – “as it has a combination of lyrics, music, and images of the real people that are behind the project, and their many countries of origin and languages. There is a combination of Middle Eastern and Western tunes that make the artistic results of the project very special”.  

How do you think the “Walk with Me” video and, generally speaking, the arts can help people from different cultures to connect and develop empathy with one another? 

DABU: This video really shows the power of music to overcome any distance or difference and trigger positive emotions; you can really see how emotional people get while watching this video. The fact that I have been part of this global project is also inspiring for the young people of my community here in El Salvador, because it is sending them the message that no matter where you come from, if you are passionate about something and you work to improve yourself, you can overcome any hardship and reach your potential. 

MASOUD: This video showcases how people can be united, without any politics creating divisions. I am very grateful to be part of this project that has really managed to go beyond any borders. 

RAGHAD: Music is a very powerful tool to bring cultures and people from different backgrounds together. In my work with I Speak Music, I am experiencing how music gives us a common language to communicate with each other. Music enables people to share their culture, express their feelings, anger, sadness, and happiness. All these feelings are captured in this video. We can use art against poverty and war, and all the sad things that are happing in our societies.  
Supporting people from different backgrounds is very important. They must be given a voice to speak, they must be recognised, because they can enrich the culture of the communities they join. Artistic projects such as this one that are inclusive and let people contribute with their uniqueness, make a real difference, and I am very proud to be part of it.  

BASSEL: As we have been saying, music and the arts in general have the power to make societies more open as they enable exchanges among people and cultures. Artists from different countries have their own cultural background, so it is very nice that in this project they have the chance to express themselves through their own act of art. It is equally important that people from so many different places are given the opportunity to join the broader global artistic community; this is really an added value that this project holds. Diversity is beautiful in itself. It is amazing to see all these differences mixing in this video.  

If you could send a message to give hope to people all over the world, what would you say?  

DABU: Be patient and always improve yourself. This pandemic has taught me that even during hard times there are still opportunities to be taken. 

MASOUD: My message would be about tolerance. Nobody should impose their ideas on others. With tolerance, humanity can take huge steps forward.  

RAGHAD: Imagine a world with no borders; imagine a world with no poverty and no children suffering anywhere. Imagine a world full of music, love and kindness. 

BASSEL: Imagine a new world where there is no poverty, wars, hate or any sort of clashes. All the people should unite to make such a peaceful world a reality.