Survivors of war and torture united by music

Stone Flowers – a musical group comprised of war and torture survivors – is releasing its new album Ngunda, proving that something beautiful can come out of unimaginable violence

“Music is a way of surviving. Music is a way to be understood. Music is life.”

These words come from the members of Stone Flowers, a music project that is both therapeutic and political, and which produces powerful, uplifting and beautiful music. The project has the rare quality of raising awareness on human rights abuses while having a positive, feel-good effect on participants and the audience.

The Manchester-based group is formed by survivors of war and torture who write and perform their own songs. Music allows them to express their experiences and emotions, and convey these to their audiences. They write about torture, home, family, war, hope and resilience in the languages and rhythms of their home countries, which include Iran, Kuwait, Sri Lanka, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

“Participants feel it is important to tell their stories as a way of healing.”

Created four years ago, Stone Flowers is supported by the charity Musicians without Borders UK and Freedom from Torture North West. The group is performing live at numerous events and is now recording a new album, Ngunda, which will be launched at Amnesty International HQ in London on 5 June. The album takes its name from one of its 10 tracks, Ngunda Azali Mutu, which means “a refugee is a human being” in the Bantu language Lingala.

Many members come from cultures where music is central. The African women in the group often say that they “have a song for everything”. The Middle Eastern members draw on a strong musical heritage as well as an ancient culture of poetry to inform their melodies and lyrics. The result is a rich cornucopia of styles and influences, which includes Arabic poetry mixed with West African rhythms and English folk segued into Caribbean and Tamil songs.

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Many Stone Flowers members have experienced torture, rape and unimaginable violence. They have lost their home, culture and family, as well as parts of themselves. “Music allows the expression of complex emotions without having to be cognitively acknowledged – it can go straight from emotions to expression without having to be coded verbally,” explains director of Musicians without Borders UK Lis Murphy.

Participants feel it is important to tell their stories as a way of healing, but also as a political gesture. “Most important is to communicate that refugees are human beings,” says one group member. “We are fighting for our human rights through our songs and raising awareness about torture because of the way we are viewed outside of our countries.”

The album was funded predominantly through crowdfunding appeals, although the group’s funding was recently boosted by grants from Woodward Charitable Trust and Salford CVS.