Diverse Arts Culture With Celebrating Sanctuary Birmingham

A reminder that these gigs are important for building a culture of acceptance and hospitality as we interchange our traditions and expose our values, ethics, ethos to each other.

20th October, Whitby, Musicport Festival 2019, We are at the Whitby Pavilion

This post is for; 11th October, Birmingham, The Crossing Digbeth, Celebrating Sanctuary.

I’d like to touch base about the organization, Celebrating Sanctuary Birmingham, who brought us to Birmingham and the venue, The Crossing at Digbeth, South & City College.


Celebrating Sanctuary Birmingham is a politically active organization. 

The program manager Rachael Cox, the production manager Leonie Smith and the programme assistant and our talkback host Millicent Chapanda welcomed us at the entrance. Not only being brilliant musicians themselves but also knowing Tony Bowring & Konimusic & being linked through Platforma the Arts & Refugees Network from many years, created a feeling of oneness.  

They have been with their team putting on events to celebrate the tradition of offering sanctuary in the UK to those fleeing persecution, affirming the message that sanctuary is a human right. They run regular events and workshops across the city. They provide and work to sustain a diverse arts culture in Birmingham.

Sarah Yaseen Rafiki Jazz ©️Kia Aria

The West Midlands creative economy has grown by nearly 30% in the last 5 years and employment has grown from 80,000 to 120,000 since 2011. The Crossing as part of South & City College partially responds to this demand by basing itself in Birmingham’s creative quarter, where several music venues are also located. It has a 600 capacity working auditorium equipped with studios, specialist music technology, and rehearsal rooms.

Rafiki Jazz The Crossing Digbeth Celebrating Sanctuary ©️Kia Aria

Celebrating Sanctuary Birmingham and the Crossing make the musicians feel lucky with its large festival-like setup.

Leaving the setup for the professionals, I went out for a short walk with my investigating head-on for a quick bite and juice. When I was back, there was a surprise samosa party happening in the green room on the first floor. Damn…

Kadialy Kouyate on the Kora ©️Kia Aria

The gig started later than other cities and not a common thing, but there was an interval. This is the way in Birmingham.

First, I was a little worried about the headcount in the vast room. I could almost hear what the sound engineer Robin was thinking, “echo, we need bodies to absorb the sound”. And we did. They were right to want to put the after 8pm start, we filled the room around 8.30 pm. 

Personal Note:

Mina’s hair is looking amazing since he discovered that he has curly hair and started using curly hair products. Live and learn…. He loves spending time before the gig in the man’s room. He practices his disappearing skills. Not bad for a man who can play 30 000 years (for real) old bone flutes…

Mina Salama on the Oud, ©️Kia Aria

Our after-show Talkback is with Millicent Chapanda:  Millie is a woman with many talents; mbira player, singer, dancer.. Also check out Mbira Blues Symposium.

I like her approach floating the microphone around, organically raising the interest of the audience to ask questions. 

Here are some questions raised:

Why ‘Jazz’?  When in 2006 the band first established, this was the roots of the name.

The fundamental concept of Jazz, improvisation, experimentation, freedom and space to allow things to happen applies to the band; individually and as a group. Rafiki in Swahili means; Friends. 

There is a struggle to name the style of the band as each musician is master of their cultural music.

Rafiki Jazz at The Crossing ©️Kia Aria
Rafiki Jazz At The Crossing Digbeth ©️Kia Aria

What is the style of the band? 

Doesn’t it sound like united freedom-friends of music and culture? Am I going too far again? (Avital says it’s ‘New World Harmony’)… Our new album’s first review from blogger Monolith Cocktail says its style is ‘polygenesis’.


Avital Raz on the Guitar ©️Kia Aria

Why is the tour name “UpClose” :  To bring the audience and the band close together, Up and Close, dissolving the boundaries between us and them;  also we are northern facing band with a familiar grit at our core where a gigantic coal mine is on fire.

Millicent asked; “What is your opinion on activism around migration?” Nothing much to say as it would take dedicated talk around it. 

Whilst the band would like to leave the question with you, here is my opinion. Now I am answering as Ayse Balköse.

Cath Carr on the Guitar ©️Kia Aria
Cath Carr on the Guitar ©️Kia Aria

What about imagining and activating our vision towards a world without borders, wars, separations, a world that a group of people who think it is their birthright and talent to rule and decide over many people’s lives doesn’t exist and we could desire and realize to create to live in harmony with our meaningful values, principles? 

I know we will come there one day. Leading with our vision, Now, the time is to spread our music up beyond our mentally made borders and get the band raising. We can do it together.

To me, this sounds like activism around migration, what do you think?

Many thanks to ©️Kia Aria for the photographs.