Youth choir gives imprisoned writer a voice - St Jacobs Ungdomskör - We want life (Maria Löfberg)

Youth choir gives imprisoned writer a voice - St Jacobs Ungdomskör - We want life (Maria Löfberg)

Saudi verdict against writer Raif Badawi got St Jacob’s Ungdomskör to react. A piece by composer Maria Löfberg, with lyrics found on Mr. Badawi’s blog, was ready to be recorded and all came together a few weeks later in Storkyrkan, Stockholm Cathedral, mid-spring 2015. 'We want life' is a sounding protest against the oppression and abuse of those who practice their human right to have an opinion.

Questions to Maria Löfberg, the composer of the choral setting of “We want life …” and Frida Rönnblom who answers on behalf of St Jacob´s Youth Choir:

We had the great pleasure to ask Maria Löfberg, the composer of the choral setting of “We want life …”, and Frida Rönnblom who spoke on behalf of the St Jacob´s Youth Choir some questions about the new choral setting and its performance.

Question: Who had the idea for this setting of Raif Badawi's text? And what was the main motivation to set the text?

Maria Löfberg: I was very upset when I first read on Facebook about the un-human punishment for using the human right of expressing an opinion on the internet that was taking place in Saudi Arabia. To sentence somebody to 1000 whiplashes is to me the same as to sentence him to death in a very brutal way, and I thought, being a composer, that what I could do to protest against this, was to set something into music and urge choirs around the world to sing this protest out loud.

Question: How did you come across this specific text? Why did you choose this text by Raif Badawi?

Maria Löfberg: I found the words of Raif Badawi on the Amnesty web site, and at once I had the music completed inside my head, and could write it down immediately. Then I posted the idea on Facebook, asking if there were any choirs out there who would help me record the music so it could be posted on social media all over the world. The St Jacob´s Youth Choir answered at once, and did more than I asked for: They made the protest their own and recorded not only the music but made a movie out of it.

Question: When the St. Jacob’s Youth Choir read about Ms. Löfberg’s setting of a text of Raif Badawi, why did you decide that you want to perform this setting?

Frida Rönnblom: We (the choir) had group discussions since this is the first time we ever had the opportunity to partake in something like this. We formed in 2009, didn’t have a set of guidelines or policies to help us make a decision or how we would have to respond or defend our decision to “meddle” in the very loud and current debate in Sweden that got fuelled by the statement of Minister on Foreign Politics, Margot Wallström. Since at least January - this has been part of an open media debate. We see actions like this around the globe every week. Why this matter, and not another? Are we hypocrites?  How does it look if we state this is wrong in the public room, when at the same time our commerce agreement empowers structures of oppression? And would it fall back on us internationally since we are an internationally competing chorus?

All of this was considered, and yet we decided that it didn't matter because we were going to do something for our own future as well. Not for “someone over there”. Not for the sake of publicity. This is something we will be able to give on to future generations. We are one people.

Question: Were there in the meantime any other choirs interested in performing this setting?

Maria Löfberg: Several choirs were interested, I think around ten, but most of them, having seen the music sheets, didn´t consider that there was time enough to rehearse and do justice to the song this spring. But I hope they will join later on.

Question: What were main objectives for the musical setting? I have seen that it is mentioned in the press statement that the music quotes parts of the Saudi Arabian national anthem. I think it would be very interesting, if you could say a little bit more about the music.

Maria Löfberg: My musical idea was to combine the words of Raif Badawi, which would be set in the main musical idea, with fragments of the Saudi national anthem. At first, as I was very upset with the Saudi government, I wanted the anthem to symbolize “evil” but the more I thought about it, I realized that the national anthem of course may be a symbol of pride for being Saudi, and I hope now, that one may interpret the anthem fragments within the setting as at hope for a new Saudi Arabia where every person is equal, and both men and women can lead free lives, able to speak their hearts without fearing medieval punishments.

Question: Ms. Rönnblom, do you have any comments on the music or the words of the setting?

Frida Rönnblom: A comment on the harmonies setting: strong lines give that feeling of “doom” and despair - an effective use of dissonances that really create a momentum for the words.

When Mr. Badawi testifies of “ignorance” and “death” that hangs as shadows over the Saudi people, you would think there had been more violent uprisings in every corner, every week 24 hours a day in the Arabic news network - but instead, what the lyrics and texts from writers like him, and voices of our generation call for is merely respect for the individual and rationality in practices of justice. And all this is demonstrated through peaceful protests, manifestations, and art. The only violence visible is the violence carried out by totalitarian institutions that are threatened by the “unknown” - actions of fear.


Question: Did you get any reactions from the public to your setting?

Maria Löfberg: Since I have only written the music and sent it to conductors, I have had no reactions from an audience. One or two comments on Facebook have been positive. Most of the conductors have considered it a good piece of music, and a marvellous way of protesting

Frida Rönnblom: We have received reactions from the foreign public foremost. People are moved and stand beside us in this. The chief shepherd (pastor primarius) of the protestant Cathedral parish in Stockholm, Hans Ulfvebrand, early gave his support for this project as patron of the musical activities in the congregation. Both people we know personally, as well as people that represent NGO's and Swedish parliament are helping us to spread the music. We have yet not been contacted by Swedish media. (Which I would assume is because of the intensity of the public debate, and this project still is on the smaller matter).

Thank you very much to both of you for answering these questions and in particular for your ongoing support of Raif Badawi.

If anyone is interesting in performing the choral setting with their choir or with some friends, please contact Maria Löfberg via her website

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