A simple guitar becomes an instrument to fight racism and sectarianism

Growing up I knew Dad was a musician. We had guitars, music and records around the house. By the time I was 15, I was starting to get the itch to play. A friend was swapping his acoustic for an electric, and I asked Dad if we could get it. Of course, his initial response was, “you aren’t gonna play that,” but I persevered and he gave in eventually.

He bought the guitar for me and helped me tune it. And then he left me to it for a painful few weeks. The racket from my room wasn’t pretty. He started to wander in to show me a few things. Although he was rusty, he had many classical guitar pieces in his repertoire. And slowly they began to flow back to him. It didn’t take long.

Shortly afterwards, my focus switched to the world of computers where it has remained to this day. But I kept the guitar all these years and occasionally strummed it to myself.

My old guitar becomes treasure

This Christmas, after 35 years, I figured it was time for a new guitar. So what should I do with my old faithful servant? It was then that I discovered Beyond Skin. They are an arts collective based in Belfast. And they take old guitars to donate to their guitar groups.

Beyond Skin is an intersectional arts collective building peace and social cohesion at home and beyond. They rightly believe that arts and music can overcome barriers in our society by fostering connection, understanding and community. And they want people to empower themselves whilst celebrating diversity through creativity.

In their hands, music, arts and new media are tools for cultural education and exchange to address issues of racism and sectarianism. They design and facilitate innovative music, arts & media projects that strengthen community relations, nurture peace processes, cultivate security, empower youth and promote interaction between different cultures.

The best Christmas present

When I popped by to drop the guitar in, I walked in on their Christmas party of tea and buns. To my surprise, Darren Ferguson, CEO for Beyond Skin, introduced me to sisters Behnaz and Elnaz. They have relocated from Iran to Belfast and were waiting patiently to receive a donated guitar. When I handed over the guitar, I was struck by how excited and thankful they were. Elnaz said it was the best Christmas present.

From now on they will share the guitar. I hope it unlocks a new future for them.

As I drove home the thought occurred to me that Dad had played his part in this scene. He definitely steered me to put my old guitar to good use. I am sure that he is smiling down on Behnaz and Elnaz and Beyond Skin. A diverse group, peacebuilding through music would have had him buzzing with excitement. He would have been thrilled to bits to hear about the next chapter in the guitar’s story.

Beyond Skin supports musicians relocated to Northern Ireland from Afghanistan, Syria, Iran, Ukraine and many other places. If you have a guitar or instrument and want to help, please look at their website and facebook page and consider donating. You can tell them that Gerry made you do it!

3 responses to “A simple guitar becomes an instrument to fight racism and sectarianism”

  1. What a lovely and inspirational post this week. Thanks for that and keep them coming. Have a wonderful Christmas and an even better New Year!

  2. lovely story.. I had a 12 string for years sitting around gathering dust and I recently cleaned it up and gave it to a young singer performer in Derry.. she’s had it overhauled and electrified it (sounds painful) but giving it away to someone who would use it made my day…

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