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Tuesday 5 December 2023 Dublin: 4°C
calais field music

An Irish woman is bringing music from Calais' 'Jungle' camps to Ireland

Money raised from the project will go directly to the performers.

WHILE MANY OF us are looking forward to a relaxing weekend, Isolda Heavey has spent the week packing for a trip to France.

She wasn’t throwing swimwear and flip-flops into her suitcase – she was preparing to head to Calais, to ‘The Jungle’, the camp where refugees have been living for months after leaving their home countries to seek asylum.

The Bray woman was so taken by the stories of those she met there that she has returned a number of times, bringing with her food and aid.

Now she has set up Calais Field Music, where she is sharing songs performed by refugees in the camps online. People can pay money for the songs, and the donations will go to the performers themselves.


Last October, Isolda joined the Cork to Calais convoy, with Ireland Refugee Solidarity, and has now spent more than five months with their support travelling between Ireland, Greece and Calais.

Last week, while walking through the camp she and her colleagues met a group of young boys. They called them over, saying, ‘Come, Sudan music’, and showed them their singing and drumming.

Their song was about what it is like to live in the camps – two of the boys are just 17.

“They alternated between [singing about] the roles of CRS police using pepper spray ,and camp refugees in hiding,” Heavey said. The song was called Abbas Halla, which translates to Enough, Police.

rubbish tents fence

‘Music was a ray of sunshine’

“Over the course of the week we spent many hours with them chatting, singing, sketching, eating, drinking sweet tea,” said Heavey.

She described the music sessions as “like a ray of sunshine in the increasingly dire conditions, three days of non-stop rain”.

They would always greet us with a warm shoulder bump and handshake, escort us around the camp if it was dark, share their food with us and shelter us from the rain. We began to realise that they had very little… one phone between them, inappropriate footwear for the weather, no socks, no jackets and very little food shared between them.
Then we found out that one of the older boys volunteers every day in one of the camp kitchens. Like some others we met in the camp they don’t attend the line distributions for clothes and food and like to keep away from any potential confrontation (especially for the younger boys). We helped them with the clothes and food that they needed.

Their situation soon sparked an idea for Heavey – creating a way for people to hear the music originating from the different cultures residing at the camp, while also providing an opportunity for the musicians to earn a small income.

With this in mind, she set up Calais Field Music.

mud track 2

Heavey was helped with her project by Ireland Refugee Solidarity and other people who provide assistance and aid in the camps.

The initial recordings are of the boys that sang the song Enough, Police for Heavey. They are anonymous, but a sketch of them by artist Liam Hourican is used on the Bandcamp page.

So far their songs have raised around €400, all of which will be given to the boys directly on Heavey’s forthcoming trip to Calais this week.

“It’s a trust system, but I consider them to be my friends,” she said.

“It is money that they have earned – and the return for those who purchase the music is not only that they are giving directly to some of the most marginalised of people, but they can also enjoy some incredible music and give the artists a very real sense of dignity,” said Heavey.

caravan img

On this current trip, she will be recording music from others within the camp, which currently holds over 6,000 refugees. Heavey describes it as “solidarity, not charity”.

“I am trying to humanise people again, tell their stories, get away from the headlines which are painting a really awful picture,” she said.

“For me with some of the people I’ve been meeting, [I think] how enriching that would be for our society if they were here. If people could see that and get away from the rhetoric of rape culture, calling people cockroaches, and that people want to sponge off our society, when really a lot of people I have met have lot to give.”


“They want you not to be afraid of them”

She said that a lot of the Syrians and Iraqis she has met “are really highly educated and speak English, are engineers and architects”.

Then some people who are maybe not of same socio-economic background have other things to offer. These guys had the beautiful warmth of them and their music. I wanted to bring that to people and show them that.

She said that when she meets people at the camp “they want to sit down and have a cup of tea with you and want you not to be afraid of them”.


Heavey described the Calais camp as “really unsanitary, there are not enough toilets, not enough water taps, no showers”.

She also said the men had told her about brutality and a heavy police presence there.

Heavey also said that “the idea it is a camp full of men is only partly true”, as there are “a lot of families, a lot of children” and also a “large group of unaccompanied minors”.

Heavey, whose short film Where the Blue Flowers Go was shown at the IFI during the Stranger than Fiction festival, is hoping to put together a piece documenting what she has seen at Calais.

aerial view

“I feel like we could learn a thing or two from them”

Asked why she keeps returning to Calais, Heavey said it is because of all that she has seen.

“It’s very hard to turn your back when you’ve seen what’s going on there,” she said. “I’ve received so much hospitality from the people who live in that camp, I really feel like we could learn a thing or two from those people.”

People here who have nothing were giving me their hats and raincoats last time as it was raining so badly. One day I must have had three dinners with three groups of people. They don’t have much at all. They might be sharing a dish among 19 people, and they would be pushing the best bits over to you and wanting you to eat it. Once you see that kind of humanity it’s very hard to turn your back.

“Once you see the flooding and the dirt and the cold and the damp and to live in those conditions and then see how they’re treated even worse, I can’t believe they even smile when they see you,” concluded Heavey.

You can hear the songs on Bandcamp here.

All photos by Isolda Heavey

Read: ‘Devastating and incredible’: Irish volunteers on life in the Jungle>

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