Thanks to a Winnipeg producer, beautiful music is coming from a place that treats the ugliest atrocities.
In the Democratic Republic of Congo, where rape is used as a weapon of war and survivors go to the Panzi Hospital to heal, the newest song on the radio is from its patients.
Parce Que J'ai Mal (Because I Hurt) is the debut song from the hospital's music enrichment program.
'It's amazing what the medium of a five-minute pop song can do to people'— Make Music Matter's Darcy Ataman
It was written, performed and produced by survivors and staff at the after-care wing of the hospital in Bukavu where Winnipeg's Darcy Ataman set up a recording studio.
"It's amazing what the medium of a five-minute pop song can do to people," said Ataman, the founder of Make Music Matter. His charity joined with the Panzi Hospital Foundation and the Humanitarian Innovation Fund to come up with a music therapy program to help patients in recovery record their own songs.
The debut song is getting airplay on Congolese radio and a video — with the survivors' faces blurred to protect their identities — is on YouTube.
The program helping traumatized people in a conflict zone in Africa may one day be welcomed into indigenous communities in Canada, said Ataman, who's worked with kids in Rwanda and former child soldiers in Congo.
"It can be used in any area dealing with some form of trauma, with a method anyone can participate in — whether it's the disenfranchised north or Syria or eastern Africa."
It starts with establishing respect, he said.
"We treat them as real artists." They have music licences and own the rights to their songs, he said. The recording equipment is state-of-the-art. What's different is having a psychologist there and an open studio classroom setting where the survivors work together, he said. "If they have a friend, they will hold hands while the other records," said Ataman. "They're very self-supportive in that way. There's no judging."
The program is tracking whether or not making music is reducing depression and post-traumatic stress for the participants, said Ataman. Another goal is helping patients return to their communities, and the power of music may help them overcome the stigma of rape, he said. The survivors' songs are now reaching people in the places they came from, said Ataman.
"They get played on the radio there." At the end of August, their songs will be performed at a public concert, said Ataman, who is returning to the hospital in Bukavu to help with the event. In 2014, he organized a fundraiser in Winnipeg for the hospital with its director, Nobel Peace Prize nominee Dr. Denis Mukwege, former UN commander in Rwanda, Sen. Roméo Dallaire, and founder of War Child North America, Dr. Samantha Nutt.
"The music validates their feelings," he said. And their right to be heard. The survivors' self-esteem increases while the stigma of what happened to them loses some of its strength, he said.
The recording session's main goal is to help improve mental health, said Ataman. It's just one part of the program that includes other therapies and interventions to help survivors on their road to recovery.
Music is the "Trojan horse" that can often get past the barriers traumatized people put up, reaching them at a deeper level, he said.
He's seen that happen during recording sessions, he said.
"They're not professional musicians, and there's no shyness singing about the worst atrocities that were bestowed upon them," he said. "It's fearless."
To see the video of the survivors' song with English lyrics, go to: wfp.to/beautifulmusic.
Carol Sanders’ reporting on newcomers to Canada has made international headlines, earned national recognition but most importantly it’s shared the local stories of the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home.
Updated on Friday, July 10, 2015 at 7:12 AM CDT: Replaces photo