I have a little something different to offer today. Remember Mirza? He was a MALD student who wrote for the blog in 2013-14 and 2014-2015, and since then he has been alternating work that builds on his Fletcher studies with a continuation of the music career he had pre-Fletcher, with the duo Arms and Sleepers (AAS). Recently, I read something he had posted on his Facebook page and asked if I could share it on the blog. It struck me as bringing together so much of what makes Mirza interesting — his personal history, his directness and honesty, his work as a musician, and the insights he will have developed at Fletcher. I’m glad he agreed to let me share his thoughts. Post-Fletcher careers in the arts are not typical, but those graduates who pursue them are not alone.
As a further introduction, today Mirza noted, “I have performed in Georgia the country and Georgia the U.S. state; Moscow, Idaho and Moscow, Russia; Athens, Georgia and Athens, Greece; (the) Mexico and New Mexico.” He definitely covers a lot of territory. Speaking of which, let me share his upcoming tour schedule. If you live or are traveling in any of these locations, I’m sure Mirza would be happy to see you. He has always welcomed Fletcher alumni, students, and even applicants to his performances in the past.
And with that, I’ll let Mirza share his story.
I’ve been telling this story at my shows on the current tour so I’ll share it here as well, especially as I am in northern Greece at the moment.
Being a musician and doing this for a living, I often feel conflicted about the importance and impact of what I do, compared to what’s happening in the world. I arrived at Amsterdam airport the morning of the Brussels airport bombings, and was traveling to Greece via Brussels airport last week. I am now in northern Greece about to play three shows, practically right next to the refugee camps where people have only one thing on their mind: survival. I’ve been on that side as well. When I left Bosnia with my mother in 1992, we only had survival on our mind, too. We were lucky to escape the war, but we wanted the world to pay attention to our struggles and help us start a new life somewhere else. Almost every country closed its borders to us, and hours (many hours) spent waiting in line at the Norwegian/Swedish/Canadian/etc. embassies resulted in nothing but rejection. We were lucky, once again, to be taken by the U.S. after years of trying.
Today, I am on the other side, doing something I love and something that I helped build myself. I perform music across the world, and even if I am only a small artist, I feel incredibly privileged and lucky that people are willing to pay me to come to their country and play a show. So as I am writing this in Thessaloniki, Greece, I feel weird because I think about some western artist who might have been performing in Croatia at the same time that my mother and I were traveling on ferries and buses with two suitcases looking for a better future. Now that western artist is me.
I keep saying that music is important, because it is. At almost every show I meet someone who tells me how much our music has impacted him/her. In Bristol, UK, a girl was crying after our show because she heard her favorite song live; in Chongqing, China, someone told me our CD was the first she ever purchased outside of China; in Guatemala City, the show organizer told me that our music opened his eyes (ears?) eight years ago to all kinds of new music he never knew about before; in St. Petersburg, Russia, a young girl told me that she has a heart condition and can’t go to loud shows, as per her doctor, but came to my show anyway and felt free for the first time in a long time; a girl in Poznan, Poland recently got sick and ended up in a wheelchair — she told me that my show was an hour during which she could forget about all the overwhelming negativity in her life; in Ukraine in the summer of 2014, I was thanked endlessly for not canceling my tour and for being one of the only artists to play in the eastern part of the country; in 2009, we wrote a song that was the first thing a newborn in Nashville, Tennessee heard; a guy flew on a plane in Russia for the first time just to come to an AAS show; and I continue receiving Facebook messages from young people in Tehran, Iran telling me how much our music has been influential in the city’s underground electronic music scene. These are not ego-boosters, but little stories that are important to me because they involve people’s actual lives, and it is unbelievably humbling to have any amount of impact in someone else’s life.
So I don’t know, I continue feeling conflicted because I’ve been on both sides — I’ve been a refugee who nobody wanted and I’ve been a teenager/adult who needed music to get through difficult times. As I play these shows in northern Greece over the next three nights, I’ll be doing plenty of self-examination and figuring out how to best contribute positively in this messy world, with and without music.