Bridging Cultural Identities through Music

The Ensemble seeks to connect and inform all people who are committed to ensemble music education for youth empowerment and social change.

Bridging Cultural Identities through Music

Fenia Biniari, Communications Manager, El Sistema Greece, Alexandros Gkonis, Greek composer, and Hasan Labendz, musician, El Sistema Greece


El Sistema Greece Youth Orchestra. Photo: Vasso Paraschi.

An artist’s creative process is one of the most intriguing aspects of a composition—a giant basket of sights, sounds, ideas, and sensations that bring inspiration. But how do artists select and interpret these elements? And if they really are so personal to us, what happens when we share the contents of those baskets with others?

At El Sistema Greece, the B-Me: Blending Melodies – Bridging Cultural Identities project has given us a window into that process. Pairing local composers with musicians of migrant or refugee backgrounds, B-Me aims to bridge cultural identities through collaborative composition. During the creative process, each participant is given the freedom to fully express their most intimate music identity. In doing so, B-Me collaborators work toward the creation of a unique musical composition that resonates with them personally—even when some of the creative process comes from someone else’s basket.

Currently, the B-Me project is being implemented by Sistema Cyprus, El Sistema Greece, and the Associação das Orquestras Sinfónicas Juveniles Sistema Portugal. These compositions will be performed by each musician’s youth orchestra and made accessible to any other orchestra in the world, creating a cultural exchange with every performance. Refugee and migrant groups might be vulnerable due to their displacement, but through this project they are given the space to offer new ideas and perspectives. Audiences are then welcomed into this world, where they see firsthand the meaningful connections that music can create.

Eventually, other composers and students in the music and composition field will have the opportunity to attend seminars on promoting social equity through music. The results will be shared widely, as orchestras across world are invited to perform these compositions in their own countries. Youth orchestra performances of B-Me will be recorded and shared, hopefully inspiring audiences for years to come.

One of our B-Me pairs, Greek composer Alexandros Gkonis and El Sistema Greece musician Hasan Labendz, who is of Polish descent, agreed to share their experiences from the creative process.

Alexandros Gkonis / B-Me composer

Alexandros Gkonis.

My meetings with Hasan created a strong framework for our musical project. The traditional Polish songs he showed me naturally led me to think about similarities and differences between Greek and Polish traditional music. Ultimately,what led me to start the musical process was the story behind my favorite piece. This piece is named “Time Passes by Time” (freely translated) —a title that balances optimism and pessimism. Stories about places and people motivate one unwittingly.

“My loved one left while I was falling asleep / like birds leave the branches of the trees / our wings are broken / Oh God, It’s such a pity that I won’t be able to marry Ludvina / Time passes everywhere.”

Joseph and Ludvina. Two people separated. “She left like birds leave the branches of the trees.” Reuniting them became the purpose of this musical work. A dance somewhere in the middle of the piece. For them to meet again. For us to see them dancing in the air.

“Flowing Spring rain / a heavy rain changes everything / a tree wrapped in singing birds.”

Hasan Labendz / B-Me musician

Hasan Labendz. Photo: Vasso Paraschi.

I am 18 years old. My origins can be traced back to Zakopane, a town in the extreme south of Poland at the foot of the Tatra Mountains. All the same, I was born and raised in Greece, which prevented me from learning a lot about my origin.

I am very excited to share my experience and knowledge within the B-Me project. The process was full of communication and enthusiasm. The opportunity to engage my love of traditional Polish music and to escape a little from my daily routine helped me grow—not only as a musician, but as an individual. Musically, I enjoyed discussing the different techniques used across cultures. But I enjoyed these conversations in a more personal way as well, because I had the freedom to speak without restrictions and I knew that no one would judge.

Every time I saw Alexandros become excited and passionate about a piece, I thought about how music can awaken emotions, even when we do not know what the song is about.

The music specific to Podhale, Poland’s highland region, is, unfortunately, slowly getting lost over time. In a sense, B-Me has given me the opportunity not only to bridge cultures but also to restore and preserve the musical ideas from my family’s home country. I am very grateful that I was able to highlight my culture in this way.

Funded by the European Union. Views and opinions expressed are however those of the author(s) only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union. Neither the European Union nor the granting authority can be held responsible for them.