In 2008, I had a life-changing experience when I played music at Beldangi camp in Nepal which held more than 100,000 refugees from neighbouring Bhutan. The concert was organised by WFP and UNHCR to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS and it was my first ever time to perform for refugees.
This year, I was asked by WFP to play for refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). They fled violence in their homeland in the early 1990s and now live in a sprawl of mud huts in Nyaragusu in north-western Tanzania.
I was delighted to perform in the camp because I’ve been greatly influenced by African musicians. In the 1980s, when I arrived in Paris from Dominica to study art and music, I began to look for my African roots. A number of Congolese had migrated to Europe in the 1970s when political conditions deteriorated in their homeland and they brought their music with them. During this time, I met artists who played African music such as reggae, soukous and zouk. I drew inspiration from these Congolese artists and started a band called ‘Natural Gift’ in Marseille in 1991. We were a group of French musicians of African and Caribbean origin. We played reggae, soul and jazz at concerts and festivals all over France and Europe.
The visit to Nyaragusu was an enriching experience. During the hour-long concert, many of people came up to the front to dance and it really made me happy to see them having a god time.
We interspersed music with information about the European Commission's Directorate-General for Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection (ECHO) which supported my mission to the refugee camp. I later saw the camp leaders distributing WFP food to the refugees. Women and men lined up to collect their monthly rations of SuperCereal, maize meal, pulses, vegetable oil, and salt. I learned that, due to generous contributions from ECHO and other donors, WFP has been able to assist some 70,000 refugees in the camp. It’s not an easy life for the people living there but I have very happy memories of my visit – and I hope they do too.