Tacoma Refugee Choir Share Culture Through Inspirational Songs

The Tacoma Refugee Choir and the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department recently partnered to produce a series of inspiring songs as a way to boost the importance of culturally significant public health information during the pandemic and community support through Share Culture, Not COVID.

The three songs with accompanying video released through the project are representative of different communities most deeply affected by COVID-19.

“We chose three communities that we have experience working with and that we know have strong cultural identities,” Erin Guinup, Executive and artistic director of Tacoma Refugee Choir, said. “Musically, we knew we could create something special around that.”

Guinup learned about some of the profound impacts on these and other communities after a census video came out last year.

“We were hearing things like, ‘I didn’t understand how much my voice could matter,’” Guinup said. “People were feeling like issues that are very relevant to them weren’t being seen, or heard, which was one impetus for this project.”

The resulting collaboration between Tacoma Refugee Choir, its partners, and the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department cross-culturally expresses messages of strength, unity, and the emphasis of following health guidance to protect and care for one another.

We Will Overcome (Sizonqoba), a song of encouragement and hope was made public in December, written by Providence Kamana, and featuring other Congolese musicians. Lyrics in five different languages, including Zulu, Swahili, Lingala, French, and English can be heard throughout the animation by Pascal-Ricky Nzoni Mikulu.

La Salud Colectiva, made its debut in December, written by Trio Guadlevin, with Daniel Jesus French, Abel Rocha, Antonio Gomez, Gus Denhard, in conjunction with Latinx Unidos of South Sound. The compilation is performed in both Spanish and English as an inspiration to take the necessary steps in keeping everyone safe.

Ufimata/Put It On was released earlier in January. The catchy Island vibe piece about the importance of wearing masks was written by Esera J. Mose and performed along with members of the Samoan Community at the Asia Pacific Cultural Center.

Another initiative linked to the project was the distribution of over 500 masks that were appealing to those communities, created by local Congolese tailor, Nathalie Bajinya. Bajinya’s shop, Undeniable Bajinya has also been profoundly impacted by the virus.

In addition, they helped to create Zoom accounts for community members and offered training so that individuals could successfully remain in touch with family and loved ones separated during COVID.

More recently, they launched the Teen Sings program, a safe place for teens to connect and heal through music, another demographic greatly affected this past year.

“Music of your teen years can be some of the most impactful ways of healing,” Guinup said. “Our teens have had an extraordinarily difficult time during this pandemic. We wanted to offer this safe space for them to come together, and know that their stories are an important part of the narrative.”

As recovery from the impacts of this year continues, Tacoma Refugee Choir upholds its mission of creating spaces for authentic expression, interconnection, and healing through song and music with partnerships like the one with Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department.

“We need a space to acknowledge and grieve what we’ve lost, and to acknowledge the hardships we’ve faced,” Guinup said. “We need to feel joined together and that is where music and the magic of Tacoma Refugee Choir is.”

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