Making music might seem like a harmless hobby, but for some refugees it’s been a punishable offence.
The Voices Without Borders choir is made up of singers forced to flee their homeland.
For many, music was their only crime.
Among the choir’s ranks is Navid Forogh, who shot to fame after winning popular singing contest Afghan Star in 2009.
The voting-based competition gave the country a rare taste of democracy, and Navid hoped to use his stardom to promote peace, singing “for all the nationalities in Afghanistan”. But before long he started attracting the wrong kind of attention.
He began to receive threats from the Taliban, which had banned music in Afghanistan before being driven from power in 2001 by the US-led coalition.
“I had received a lot of threatening messages by phone and also they shot me and I got injured,” Navid said.
“That time I thought no… I need a safe place.”
Navid arrived in Australia last year and has since found a new outlet for his talent – as a member of the Voices Without Borders Asylum Seeker Choir.
Many choir members share similar stories of oppression, but are now determined to have their voices heard.
Assembling the multicultural outfit did pose a challenge, with three interpreters on-hand at the first rehearsal but conductor Jonathon Welch says it was clear from the start that this choir had something special.
“It was the first time I think, since they probably had been here in Australia that they had heard music from their own country in their own language,” he said.
“It was very moving and it was very emotional… to have that sense of freedom of being able to give their voice freely without having to look over your shoulder and wonder if you’ve done something wrong.”