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Students, Professor Create Podcast to Share Refugee Musicians’ Stories
As part of an innovative course taught by Erica Haskell, Ph.D., in her role as the University’s Oskar Schindler Humanities Foundation Endowed Professor, students connected with a local group of Congolese refugee musicians, sharing their music and their stories as part of a podcast.
July 31, 2020
By Renee Chmiel, Office of Marketing & Communications
During the spring semester, before the outset of the coronavirus global pandemic, Ethan Black ’22 had the unique opportunity to meet and interview a group of Congolese musicians, refugees who now live in New Haven. He learned about their lives and their culture while experiencing the richness of their music.
A music and sound recording major, Black says the experience was eye-opening, and he’s grateful to have had the chance to interact with the musicians.
“We were privileged to meet them and listen to their stories with the goal of sharing them,” he said. “The main thing I learned from this project was that not everyone has a voice that can be heard by everyone. The majority of the population does not know their stories or their feelings, and being a part of this made me want to help more.”
Black is among the students who took “Refugee Music & Story,” a course that was offered to students for the first time last spring as part of Erica Haskell, Ph.D.’s role as the University’s Oskar Schindler Humanities Foundation Endowed Professor.
As part of the class, students produced two podcasts about the musicians. Each student had a different role in creating the podcasts, such as editing, mixing, and conducting background research. Joey Stanca ’20, who recently earned a degree in music and sound recording, says it was a meaningful way to connect with the community.
“This project enabled me to see how my skillset can be used to help my community,” he said. “The opportunity to record a group of individuals and create an experience for them in which they felt valued and heard was a fantastic experience. I learned what true field work in music ethnoecology looks like, and I found that I enjoyed it.”
'I helped create something I am truly proud of'
The students first met musician Ibuchwa Alenga, who visited campus early in the semester. He performed for them and shared his story. In a second session, he and some of his friends, also Congolese refugees, sang together, and the students conducted more interviews, enabling them to learn about ethnographic interviewing and to gain a deeper and richer understanding of the musicians’ stories.
For their third session, students visited a church in New Haven where they listened to the musicians perform and recorded the church service. Shortly afterward, the University closed the campus due to the coronavirus pandemic, and students completed the podcast production and editing remotely and conducted a critique via Zoom.
“I helped create something that I am truly proud of, and I am grateful for the experience,” said Jenna McIlwrath '22, a music and sound recording major and an art minor. “I am an avid supporter of learning about the world and the people in it because everyone has a story to tell, and so many voices go unheard. It is wonderful to know that I helped raise up other voices that deserve to be heard.”
‘I am honored to be able to undertake this important work’
“I am immensely proud of the students’ work and am honored to be able to undertake this important work as a Schindler professor,” she said. “The idea is to showcase what refugees are doing on a local level and to humanize them.”
This was the first year of the Schindler Refugee Music Project, and Dr. Haskell plans to continue the effort moving forward. The digital podcasts will be broadcasted and archived, and they will be available to future students, who can then build upon the work.
Jo Sinta ’20, who recently graduated with degrees in music industry and music and sound recording, says working on the project helped her to better understand her own privilege, as well as the challenges that refugees face every day.
“Listening to Ibuchwa speak so starkly about his experiences as a refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo was chilling,” she said. “It is impossible to work on a podcast like we did or volunteer with the organizations that we did without walking away with compassion and empathy.”