Solidarity Choir celebrates 25 years

March 10, 2012
Video: Senzenina and Behind Barbed Wire. solidaritychoir/YouTube.

The Solidarity Choir in Sydney is celebrating its 25th anniversary on March 31.

The event will take place from 7.30pm upstairs at the Gaelic Club, 10 Devonshire St, Surry Hills, near Central Station. The concert will feature songs from various groups and artists with a political orientation, such as Ecopella, the Sydney Trade Union Choir, the Solidarity Choir and "Andsome Friends".

The event is also a fundraiser for the Asylum Seekers Centre and admission is by donation ($20/$15).

The choir will sing Alistair Hulett's "Behind Barbed Wire". This song, written in 1996 in response to the Australian Labor Party's policy of mandatory detention for asylum seekers, is one of the oldest on the subject.

When many refugees were manacled hand and foot, and forcibly repatriated to suffer abuse in their home countries, Hulett observed that "this state-sanctioned racism encourages fascist groups to attack ethnic communities ... fudging on the part of Social Democrats strengthens fascists all around the world".

It was originally released on Hulett's album Saturday Johnny and Jimmy The Rat.

The Solidarity Choir started in 1987 as an ad hoc group to sing at a Sydney Town Hall civic welcome for Oliver Tambo, the then-exiled president of South Africa's African National Congress (ANC). The ad hoc group included people from ANC, anti-apartheid activists, trade union aid group APHEDA, the Gay Liberation Qwire and The Mambologists, a 10-member Afro Latin dance band.

The choir enjoyed it so much they decided to continue as a group, meeting weekly and collecting songs of freedom from around the world.

Over time, the repertoire grew to include songs from locations as diverse as Africa, South America, Korea, the Philippines, East Timor and central Australia. Other songs in the repertoire address themes such as unions, refugees, and AIDS.

The choir has taken these songs to campaign and solidarity events, and also to festivals and world music events.

The choir is always open to new members and invitations to sing. There is no audition, but the standard is maintained by weekly practice in Erskineville, now on Thursday nights.

Check out the choir here. To contact the choir, call Mark on 0400 285 974, Fran on 0466 287 230, or email

The Solidarity Choir sings the traditional South African song "Senzenina" and Alistair Hulett's "Behind Barbwire".

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