An Afghan refugee from Solihull is harnessing the power of music by taking part in the UK’s Eurovision celebrations.
Raza Ahmadzai, 25, was evacuated from Afghanistan last year and is taking part in a unique celebration which has brought together the National Lottery funded European Youth Music Refugee Choir (EYMRC) and former UK Eurovision star, Sonia, for a special rendition of her 1989 No.1 hit You’ll Never Stop Me Loving You.
Following rehearsals a week earlier at the Adelphi Hotel in Liverpool, the choir sang alongside Sonia at the National Lottery-funded Everyman Theatre – on the aptly named Hope Street in the city – ahead of the Eurovision final on May 13.
And Ahmadzai revelled in getting into the Eurovision spirit on Merseyside.
He said: “I got to know about it through my social worker. She told me that there will be a Eurovision themed choir and I was really excited to be part of it because everybody is talking about it; it’s like the Olympics of music.
“To be part of it is something that is really exciting for me and I am really happy to be here actually taking part.
“It’s really new for me because I have never done singing or dancing before – I am not a singing or dancing person!
“But it was suggested I take part so I can have a new experience, go to a new city, meet different people, other refugees and asylum seekers and have more exposure to British culture. I have made some new friends.
“I am nervously excited to be part of Eurovision. It’s a great opportunity. For a person who hasn’t sung before, to actually sing with a really good singer is a huge step but I am really excited.”
The National Lottery is one of the biggest supporters of music and culture in Liverpool with over £330m invested in 3,600 arts and heritage projects to date.
Liverpool’s historic hosting of Eurovision sees The National Lottery make a further multi-million-pound contribution to arts, heritage and community across the city.
Ahmadzai was forced to flee his home country last year after the Taliban regained control but has now found a new home in the West Midlands.
His journey whilst in the UK has been aided by National Lottery initiatives such as the choir, which has helped Ahmadzai come out of his shell and meet other refugees and asylum seekers with similar experiences.
More than £250,000 of National Lottery funding has been invested by The National Lottery Heritage Fund into Eurovision inspired projects through their Liverpool’s EuroLearn programme that supports music, visual arts and storytelling in schools and across the region in addition to the EuroStreets programme to engage with Liverpool’s wider communities through food, crafts, live performances and cultural celebrations.
And having never before performed in a choir, Ahmadzai is keen to carry on singing after Eurovision thanks to the impact on his mental health.
“It has been amazing. The Home Office and local authorities have been really helpful in every way – they have been supporting us from the start to the end,” he added.
“There is an amazing team from the Home Office working with us, they are really nice and friendly. I never felt like somebody from outside, I felt like somebody at home. The only difference is the language.
“I am going to try to keep singing because it’s the first time I have tried it and I really liked it. It helps you mentally.
“While I have been doing this event, I don’t feel any anxiety or pressure – I don’t feel like I have any problems at all. It feels like the perfect environment a human can have.”
National Lottery players raise more than £30 million a week for arts, education, environment, health, heritage, sport, and voluntary projects across the UK; see the difference it’s making near you at www.lotterygoodcauses.org.uk