MUSIC has the power to cross all the barriers formed by different languages and culture – and is why one award-winning musician is in the process of setting up an orchestra for refugees and asylum seekers in a deprived part of Scotland.

Paul MacAlindin has already received worldwide acclaim for establishing the National Youth Orchestra of Iraq, which performed all around the world and flourished against all odds in a conflict-torn country.

Now he is focusing on Govan in Glasgow where he has already launched a series of classical concerts and arranged workshops on music composition at the local high school.

The first concert in Govan Old Parish Church last month was a huge success and he is hoping for even more of an audience for the next one on June 22.

At the same time, he is working on a new project called Musicians in Exile which is designed to bring together asylum seekers and refugees who can play music but no longer have contact with other musicians or have access to instruments.


MACALINDIN previously ran a similar project in Germany so knows from personal experience how music can bring hope back to people who are living in very stressful circumstances.

“For many of the refugees and asylum seekers who land in Glasgow it is a huge culture shock and some are escaping the horrors of war as well,” he pointed out.

“They then face a traumatic application process that goes on for a long time and they are stuck in limbo, not knowing if it will be granted. In Britain they get £37.75 a week, plus accommodation, but they are not allowed to work and they are in that limbo for as long as it takes their application to move through the process.”

“Giving them access to musical instruments and other musicians means they can retrieve their culture. It is better for their mental health because making music again recovers their identity.”

MacAlindin believes that as well as being of benefit to the musicians, such a project can also aid the public perception of asylum seekers and refugees.

“It’s about reforming how people see refugees and asylum seekers in Glasgow,” he said. “I want people to come along and listen and hear how these refugees and asylum seekers are cultural beings.”


IN Germany, MacAlindin could see that the music sessions did improve the musicians’ mental health, although he says he had to go into “beg, borrow and steal mode” to obtain instruments.

Somehow he managed and, strapping his electric piano on to his shoulder, he would go off every week to the rehearsals.

“Many were traumatised so the main thing was getting them to turn up regularly,” he said. “We would practise and I would find small community platforms for them to perform, just to get them out and playing so everyone knew what they could do.”

Regular attendance at the music workshops also helped convince the authorities they were trying to integrate and learn the language.

MacAlindin is hoping to reproduce the project here and is currently working in collaboration with a Govan community project based at the Pearce Institute which provides vital services to asylum seekers in Glasgow.

He is now at the stage of finding asylum seekers who can make music and plans to hold the sessions in the Pearce Institute.

“Govan Housing Association’s Community Hub will be cooking a meal for them when they turn up so they are not playing when they are hungry,” explained MacAlindin. “Food, music and creativity all connect.”


THIS is just one of a number of projects MacAlindin is working on in a bid to help Govan improve its cultural credentials. He is being supported by Creative Scotland and the William Grant Foundation along with donations and has so far raised about £55,000 in less than a year.

Some of this money will be used for more work at Govan High School, as well as with the African Art Centre in Ibrox.

The sum has also helped him to set up the area’s own orchestra, The Glasgow Barons, which has now begun its first season.

“They are all professional players from Glasgow and the first concert went really well,” said MacAlindin.

As well as pieces by the classical composers, the first concert featured new songs about Govan people written and sung by Scottish folk singer Ainsley Hamill. These included songs about Mary Barbour who led the 1915 Rent Strikes, Peter Barr, the Victorian horticulturist who became known as the Daffodil King, and the swimmer Belle Moore, who won a gold medal as a member of the British relay team at the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm, Sweden.

There will be three new songs written by Hamill at the next concert on June 22 and then four written by Lewis singer-songwriter Norrie MacIver at the concert on July 26.


PART of the reason for the concerts, says MacAlindin, is to encourage people to come to Govan to see the positive changes in the area.

“It’s really about getting people into Govan and saying something wonderful is happening here and we should be looking at it in a new light. We are also saying to people who live here that they should be looking at Govan in a new and positive way and not just concentrating on the past.

“Helping people to see things differently is what regeneration is about.”

MacAlindin is full of praise for the regeneration work already carried out on Govan’s finest buildings but believes the area now needs to invest in its people.

“Everybody sees that millions of pounds has been invested in the buildings and they do look good but there is no point in having beautiful buildings if nobody is doing anything,” he said. “What I am trying to do is demonstrate to people they deserve the best and help them to show others what they are capable of.”

The concerts will be held in Govan Old Parish Church at 7.30pm