To mark Refugee Week, Howard Assembly Room mounted a concert to showcase some of the amazing talent brought to this country by those escaping intolerable conditions, some even life-threatening, in their birth countries. It is appropriate that Leeds is participating as the city has largely been built by immigrants from around the world. Just think of Burton Tailors, Stylo Shoes, oh yes, and Marks and Spencer to name but a few.

I don’t know whether Montegue Burton or Arnold Ziff were great musicians but everyone brings something different to the party, and this particular party kicked off with a set from Harmony Choir, a group of refugees and those seeking refuge, who gave us half a dozen uplifting songs dealing with family, travelling, home, inner strength and finishing with one called Everything is Possible. The choir leader had bonded them into a tight unit with great harmonies which can’t have been easy as I am assuming that there are quite a few nationalities involved in the 21-member chorus. Not only would that mean a range of languages but also tonal differences in the way that their ethnic music is normally performed.

Hamsa Mounif and Liz Hanks

There followed a set from singer Hamsa Mounif who was accompanied by Liz Hanks on cello and performed a short set of improvised songs, the titles of which were either not announced or I missed them. Sadly there was no programme so I am having to rely on my notes here which might not be as comprehensive as I would have liked. Whatever they were called they were mesmeric pieces.

The Jaffa Cakes with singers Amir Beymanesh and Hind Merhi

Next up were two singers who were accompanied by a couple of members of The Jaffa Cakes. I am sure that there are other musicians in the band but you know how quickly Jaffa cakes can disappear. The chaps took it in turn to sing songs, the first accapella and then with the guitars as accompaniment. There must have been a fair old Iranian contingent in the audience as, in one song from that country, they got the full Sweet Caroline treatment.

A Family Affair

They had been in the country for three years and had their applications confirmed which meant that their families, who they hadn’t seen for three years, had arrived to join them. This provided a touching finale when they were invited on stage to act as backing group. Having said that, despite their coy demeanour, the young girls were not going to be satisfied with being a mere support and belted out the songs with gusto.

Tila and Tavelah in full voice.

Things closed with Tila and Tavelah, who had been compèring the show and at last got their moment in the limelight. This time we were treated to the more familiar strains of Set Fire to the Rain and At Last. They were magnificent.

Once again, Howard Assembly Room has introduced its audience to genres of music not readily available in other places and uplifted our spirits in the process. Thank you.

To see what is coming up at Howard Assembly Room please go to

Feature image is of Tila and Tavelah introducing the artists.

All photographs by Stan Graham

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