Telling refugee stories through song

Canadian singer-songwriter, performer and entertainer Ben Caplan will be performing at the West End Cultural Centre April 6.

The concert will feature songs off his latest album, Old Stock, as well as tracks from previous records.

Caplan’s music is influenced by diverse genres such as eastern European folk music, Balkan brass, Klezmer and Roma music.

“The story of my career as a musician has been about trying to collaborate with people who know more than me, who are more talented than me and slowly soaking up the little things that they know,” said Caplan.

The songs from Old Stock were originally composed for the musical theatre production he co-created entitled Old Stock: A Refugee Love Story. Caplan wrote the songs for the musical along with director Christian Berry, while Hannah Moscovitch wrote the musical’s script. His Canadian tour will end in Toronto with a five-week theatrical run of the musical.

Old Stock: A Refugee Love Story takes place in 1908 and follows the story of two Jewish Romanian refugees in Halifax. Chaim and Chaya, the protagonists, are based on Moscovitch’s great-grandparents.

Despite taking place in the past, the musical and the accompanying album’s themes address the current turmoil around immigration.

One of Stephen Harper’s comments in the 2015 federal election campaign helped prompt Caplan to undertake a project featuring a refugee romance.

Caplan recounted that Harper “made a distinction between new Canadians and ‘old stock Canadians,’ and I was very disturbed by that distinction that there could be a kind of person who was more or less Canadian, in my opinion.

“There is no such thing as more or less Canadian.”

Caplan sought to draw the audience to the hypocrisy of modern-day xenophobia by relating it back to Canadian immigrants in the early 20th century.

“This idea of drawing a distinction between people who have more complex ethnic backgrounds, that have identities that involve a place of origin that is not Canada and people who have a more unified or a more singular identity, I think is deeply problematic and, at its heart, racist,” said Caplan.

Caplan was also pushed to write Old Stock after seeing the image of the young Syrian boy Alan Kurdi, whose body came ashore on the Turkish coast of the Mediterranean. Deeply disturbed by this tragedy, Caplan decided to help create a humanizing story about refugees.

Old Stock: A Refugee Love Story debuted at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, winning top festival honours. In between the play’s international tour performances, Caplan has played concerts showcasing the musical’s accompanying album across Europe, Australia and North America.

“I hope the audience will leave [the show] with a sense of the joy and the whimsy that is inherent in life as well as the chaos and darkness that is inherent in life,” he said.

“I try to hold both wholes in my hands and move through both the light and the dark with humour and joy, so I hope that people will leave with a rich sense of the absurd and the duality of life.”

 

Ben Caplan will be playing at the West End Cultural Centre April 6. Tickets are available at ticketmaster.ca.