Eye-opener for all
The choir members learned Swedish while having fun. “In asylum seekers’ centres, it can take years before people receive language lessons, because it is uncertain whether they will be allowed to stay. Now they started working on the lyrics themselves. And the great thing was that people of different nationalities became friends, whereas before they had never spoken to each other.”
Many newcomers to Sweden live in isolation. They have difficulty entering Swedish society and finding work and friends. This is a pattern that was broken when Hagström decided to have the refugee choir perform with his existing choirs. “Our two hundred choir members from the Music School came into contact with the refugee choir, and that was an eye-opener for all of them.”
A network was created. The Swedish choir members invited the refugees to dinner, played sports together, and helped them with housing, internships and jobs. “Music is the best way to break through fear of the unknown and create togetherness.”
Already in the first year, The Rockin’ Pots gained national fame when the well-known Swedish singer Tomas Ledin learned that the choir had his music in their repertoire. He invited them to a joint performance. “The circus hasn’t stopped since then,” Hagström says. The choir got a role in the final of the Eurovision Song Contest, which Sweden hosted that year. This was followed by performances throughout the country. Audiences were moved that newcomers were singing the Swedish classics.
Support by Postkodstiftelsen
In 2016, the choir received its first contribution from Svenska Postkodstiftelsen, which is funded entirely by the Swedish Postcode Lottery to support projects that bring about positive social change - in the wake of the 2015 refugee crisis they decided to give extra support to good causes for refugees. In 2018, the fund provided The Rockin’ Pots with a grant of around €240,000 to set up choirs in five other places in Sweden.
“We found this very interesting and decided to get further involved,” says Marie Dahllöf, Secretary General of Svenska Postkodstiftelsen. “What’s unique with this choir is precisely the integration it leads to – that Swedes and newly arrived refugees meet and sing together and, through that, develop an understanding and friendships that probably would not have happened otherwise.”
Unfortunately, the expansion plans are temporarily on hold due to the coronavirus pandemic. Also, the choir can no longer meet physically. “At first, we were still singing together online, but in the second lockdown we couldn’t keep the energy up any more. Fortunately, we were still able to work together on an online performance for the Postcode Lottery this winter.”
The result is a beautiful video clip filmed on the ice at Östersund, with the choir singing 'We are our country', another song by Tomas Ledin. The song is about people forming a country together, regardless of where they come from. The video clip was broadcast during an online charity event of the Swedish Postcode Lottery in which all beneficiaries were put in the limelight.
A different perspective
Postkodstiftelsen has extended the subsidy by one year, so that Hagström can still fulfill his dream of starting refugee choirs in other cities as well. “We hope that we can give people throughout Sweden a different perspective. The media often portray refugees as a problem: they cost us money and benefit from our welfare state. Xenophobia often stems from ignorance. Now people are discovering that refugees are just people like us, with families, dreams and wishes.”