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Meet our artistic coordinator, Aurélie Nyirabikali Lierman


MoSaIC – Music for Sound Integration in the Creative Sector, quite a mouthful. Between October 2018 and December 2020, Koor&Stem is involved in a European project, in which music is used as a medium for social participation. The AMADEUS ensemble (Italy, project leader), Swinging Europe (Denmark), Sound Cultural Foundation (Romania) and Koor&Stem (Belgium) have teamed up to work together towards this goal with a line-up of exciting artists.

Each partner country has brought together nine artists who live in that country, but who emanate from various countries in- or outside Europe. Koor&Stem has engaged Greet Wielemans (Belgium, conductor of the Regenboogkoor), Mirjam de Wit (The Netherlands, music pedagogue), Anja Kowalski (Germany, guitarist, singer, composer), Zeno Popescu (Romania, conductor of Singing Molenbeek, singer at the Opéra de Wallonie), Natalia Bachtina (Russia, singer), Emre Gültekin (Belgium-Turkey, sas and related instruments), Moufadhel Adhoum (Tunisia, ud), Vida Razavi (Iran, dutar, sociologist) and Paul Sojo Machado (Venezuela, singer, conductor).

Koor&Stem interviewed all the artists in February and March 2019. This enabled us to glean more details about their background and their passion for music. Each artist has their own story, their own musical traditions. The hours spent with them were incredibly interesting. At a later stage, these personal stories served as a basis for the collaboration between the nine artists. The main aim of the project is to bring together European and non-European musicians in order to gather up their musical knowledge and to share each other’s musical traditions. And that is done not only through concerts with the artists, but also in school- and choir projects with children, teenagers and adults.



On the Belgian side, we also managed to get Aurélie Nyirabikali Lierman to coordinate the whole project from an artistic point of view. Aurélie is from Rwanda; she was adopted and grew up in Bruges.
She is a radio producer, vocalist and composer. She currently lives in The Netherlands.

How did you end up in Belgium?

I was adopted as a two-year-old toddler. As I was very ill, adoption seemed to be the only way for me to survive. When I was in my early twenties, I went back to Rwanda and started to search for my biological family. I didn’t have any hopes of finding anything and assumed that I was an orphan, as stated on my papers. However - to cut a long story short - a miracle happened and after two or three weeks, I met my entire family, including my biological parents!

How does your cultural background influence the way you live and think?

There is a certain aspect from Rwanda that I am very happy to embrace. It is the custom whereby, when you pay a visit to friends or family, they not only wave you goodbye at the door, but also walk back with you until they get the feeling that the path is safe enough for you to carry on alone. Sometimes they enjoy the visit so much, that they even walk you to the bus stop or take the bus with you as far as your house. When I have visitors, I also try to walk a little way with them at the end of the visit, to give my guests the feeling that they were very welcome. It is a sign of appreciation and creates a bond. Whether you are poor or rich, you take care of each other. It is called "ubuntu" and is widely practised in Central Africa. It is the African way to show humanism.


What does music mean to you?

Music means everything to me. I gave up a lot for it. I had a very comfortable job at the VRT. At a certain point, the contract expired and, despite the possibility of staying on under another contract, I took the plunge into the deep by opting exclusively for music.

My oldest memories are linked to music. It is something I was already into even before I could consciously think or speak. I remember that, partly because of the sudden move from one country to another, I used to try to comfort myself in bed by inventing songs. Time and time again, I used to hear my adoptive mother's firm voice shouting at me that I should be sleeping instead of singing (she laughs). And most times, I heeded that voice, but there was something about singing at night, I just couldn’t help it. It wasn’t until many years later that I actually realised the ability that I already had in me at a young age to invent things and improvise. During my studies to be a journalist, it occurred to me for the first time how you could do things with the voice, how you could tell stories, using nothing but words. At the end of my studies, when I was already working for the radio, I realised that I not only dreamed of telling stories simply by means of language, but that I wanted to further explore the possibilities of the voice. At that time, as it happened, I started embracing jazz music because I found there was scope for improvisation. Which gave a kind of freedom. And that's also how I ended up composing and doing all the other things that I do at the moment. I am always asking myself what I could do with the voice. And these questions are always triggered by the happy memories of singing as a little toddler in bed.



Did you also sing in a choir as a child?

One day, when I was six years old, my parents took me to a music academy to sing in the choir. I was a shy girl and all the other children there were a couple of heads taller than me. I was the smallest in the group. The choir members would practise songs in a circle with the conductor in the middle. I did not know the songs and I was a bit scared, but still I tried to sing along. At the time, I was very frightened that the conductor would tell me that I was singing out of tune and that I should try harder. But despite that fear and uncertainty, I still felt a moment of intense happiness. It was then that I realised that I wanted to sing for the rest of my life.

Photo by Aurélie Nyirabikali Lierman

Years later I travelled back to Rwanda to see my family and stayed the night at my mother’s. The little house where she lived was quite remote and far from the city. There was no electricity or light anywhere around. Outside you only had the moon and the stars for lighting. The kitchen consisted of only a few rocks between which a fire had been lit to keep us warm. A brother, whose French was not so good, tried to translate. But at a certain point, he just ran out of words and I had to follow by just observing. It was not always easy between me and my mother, as communication was often quite awkward. But I remember that at a certain moment the little brothers started to improvise with all sorts of pots and pans. A kind of close harmony choir then emerged in which someone could now and then sing a solo -first my brothers, then my sisters and then my mother. I was enthralled. It all sounded incredible and my Rwandan mother sang very well. With so much emotion and passion. It was heavenly. The family kept on singing and making music. It turned out to be something they did every day, just like eating and drinking. I learned that my maternal grandfather had also been a good singer and that he had awakened my mother's passion for singing.

I then realised where my interest for music had come from. From the moment I was born up to when I went to the orphanage and on to my adoption in Belgium, I had continually heard live music. That is my heritage.

Linking stories and music to each other creates solidarity and understanding.


Is your current work linked to your background?

Many of my works are about the journeys I made in East Africa. They are a combination of my background as a journalist, and my composition practice and acoustic music with the use of electronics. I make a lot of recordings, for example on my travels through Rwanda, which I integrate into my work. I often use those sound recordings as background sound and as a documentary element in my compositions.

I am fascinated by sound and by how a room sounds (acoustics). That’s why when it comes to music, I like to start with the most inclusive way of looking at it, to not only think about how a violin or a piano sound, but also to experience sounds from daily life as musical material. This can be the soundscape of my childhood in Bruges, but also the soundscape of the surroundings where my grandfather and my mother live. It can go from abstract electronics with all sorts of noises and bleeps, to very fine poetic lines. I am especially interested in finding ways to piece it all together, to shape it in a musical way so as to completely immerse the listener in it.

It was not my initial intention to include my experiences in East Africa in my music, but almost by chance, it has nonetheless become a big part of my music practice.

What can music do to move towards achieving real cultural participation in Europe?

I recently heard a wonderful interview on the radio during which someone had brought in a piece of music to be played.Beautiful music. It turned out to be music from an amateur string quartet that had collaborated with a professional Syrian composer, a refugee who had not long been here in Belgium and who was trying to find his place through his music. When you repeatedly get to hear such music with its stories and contexts on the radio and television, you create a more nuanced image of refugees and migrants. Linking stories and music to each other creates solidarity and understanding. This is what we hope to achieve in MoSaIC.

In Rwanda, singing is just like eating and drinking.


Liesbeth Segers & Nathalie Germain


Photo by Michel Martins @ Het Nutshuis, The Hague 2013
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