It has only happened once before, after the launch of the project in September 2016, that official branded video footage of Orchestre des Réfugiés et Amis has been shared online. In typical ODREA style the recent video was shot on a Samsung S6 by a friend far back in the audience.
It was 2012 during Refugee Week when the first pilot of ODREA took place but it wasn’t until July 2016 that the project was officially launched. So what happened in between in those four years.? Aside from copious amounts of coffee & kale being consumed the Beyond Skin team were quietly trying elements of the ODREA idea within other projects.
“With the experience we have had as an organisation we wanted to ensure as much as possible we were not going to get phone calls asking “how much to hire your wee Refugee band?” or be under pressure to have the group perform at most events promoted as ‘Multicultural” - Darren Ferguson - Beyond Skin
It has to be said musicians within ODREA are rather sensitive being labelled as a ‘Multicultural’ band – as that represents the present status of society - an unequal society ODREA are challenging through their music and address. ODREA are amongst the idea or Intercultural as it is known in the mainstream.
ODREA concept was designed to be long term, evolving and sustainable beyond any initial investment so branding and marketing would play a huge part in the project. First onto the stage was Sinful Design who produced the brand/logo followed by professional photographer Rashid Khaidanov who through skyscape and object imagery would represent the band. This was not a new idea as many bands have taken the same route before, notably Pink Floyd using the skills of Storm Thorgerson to represent the band visually without having photos of the band on album sleeves.
It was also a famous Pink Floyd question by an A&R man “by the way which one is Pink” that draws parallels to the questions ODREA are challenging or refusing to answer. They identify themselves as musicians so the questions such as “which ones are the Refugees?” are irrelevant.
Using the word Orchestre was also intentional to challenge the stereotype of what an Orchestre is when the word comes from the Greek definition of the space in front where the chorus danced and sang.
The final key person to help steer the project was Belfast Musician and Human Rights Activist Joby Fox as the music director. Joby knew firsthand the realities of the Refugee Crisis volunteering on the shores of Lesbos leading to him setting up Refugee Rescue.
Of course it had to be the Arts Council who would invest in the start up of the project – they understood the art behind the process and after a BBC Radio performance and PR photo to launch the project they gave us the freedom to get on with it and by choice ODREA disappeared from the media eye. With exception of the director Joby and Darren (Beyond Skin) - the band have turned down every interview, TV and Radio offer which has created an element of mystery surrounding the group. References to Orchestre des Réfugiés et Amis on social media do not also reveal the faces behind the music.
The group have also been very selective in accepting performance offers and appearances. Two shows at the Blackbox in January 2017 as part of the Out to Lunch festival recieved much praise from music critics which helped raise the groups artistic profile leading to immersive interactive performances & festival appearances in Dungannon, Derry, Carrickfergus, Larne, Ballymena and in Belfast with the Red Cross. Participants at the ODREA events and workshops have respected the ask to limit social sharing of video and photography footage referencing ODREA.
Beyond Skin have been in talks with Northern Visions who have been recording some events complimenting Rashid's photography for a film to be released when the group are ready. But the journey has just begun.
On the 21st June #MusicDay some of the musicians from the ODREA performed at the Braid Ballymena as part of the Building Bridges event with DU Dance and Beyond Skin.
In a unprecedented move the group have released a low-fi video from the event, but don't get too excited as it does not reveal much and does not represent the entire group. So the enigma & story that is the Orchestre des Réfugiés et Amis continues...