When leaving their homes, families and friends to escape war-torn countries, refugees take only what is most important to them. For Rami Basisah, this was his violin.
He wrapped it in clingfilm, strapped it to his back and began his journey, which saw him cover 4,000 miles both by foot and by boat, crossing eight different countries. Rami would play his violin to entertain security guards and other refugees on his journey.
Syrian children wait to cross the border between Greece and Macedonia (image: Al Jazeera)
Rami grew up in a small Syrian village between the cities of Homs and Hama. Born into a musical family, he began to learn the violin at the age of eight. He had no teacher and he taught himself first Arabic music and later classical European music. At the age of thirteen, determined to succeed as a musician, Rami began to travel to Homs with his brothers to take music lessons with a Russian teacher in the city. He then went on to attend the College of Music in Homs, but just one year into his course the conflict had worsened to the point that it was impossible for him to continue his studies.
He realised that he would have to leave Syria and in 2015 he began his journey, walking across Lebanon and Turkey, almost drowning on the crossing to Greece and then continuing north on foot. At one point on his journey, Rami was separated from his violin after being thrown off a train and chased through a forest by police in Hungary. He eventually reached Germany, where he found refuge with a German couple and was given a new violin by a local musician.
Rami’s story came to the attention of a German couple after a picture of him playing the violin in a church appeared in local newspaper. They offered him shelter and a place to practice his music.
Two years on, 22 year old Rami has released his first album entitled My Journey. It was recorded with the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra and puts a definitively Middle Eastern spin on some of the most iconic European classical music. My Journey, which features tracks including ‘Ode to Joy – Anthem for Europe’ and ‘Elegy for a Lost Nation’, tells the story of his journey from Syria, exhibiting themes of sorrow, endurance and gratitude.
Rami told Pink Jinn that he wanted the album to convey a message of peace, both for Syria and for the rest of the world. He also wanted to express his gratitude to everyone in Germany who has shown him kindness. He hopes to continue performing in the future and to complete his degree in Europe. His family are still in Syria, where the situation becomes more difficult every day.
Rami is one of millions of refugees who have fled Syria since the war began in 2011. Millions more are displaced inside the country. His story represents the trauma and the resilience of so many fleeing the conflict, which has only been complicated and exacerbated by outside interference. Meanwhile, Europe has largely turned a blind eye to the thousands of people arriving on its shores and far right groups have made political gains by portraying immigrants and refugees as the root of their individual countries’ problems.
The Syrian conflict has taken its toll on the city of Homs, where Rami studied music before leaving for Europe (image: WSJ)
Rami’s inspiring story shows not only the extent of human resilience in the face of adversity but also the power of music in helping victims of conflict remain hopeful for a better future.