‘It’s grown bigger and faster than we could have imagined’: Migration Matters Festival returns

The annual celebration of underrepresented communities will host more than 50 events in Sheffield

Musicians Amadou and Mariam will perform at Migration Matters in Sheffield this June. Photo by Nicolas Réméné

The Migration Matters Festival returns for its ninth year from 14 to 22 June. Held in the UK’s first City of Sanctuary, Sheffield, the nine-day festival will celebrate cultural identity and migration in the city. 

Launched in 2016, the festival platforms underrepresented communities through music, art, performance and food during Refugee Week every June, and has become the UK’s largest festival celebrating migration.  

This year’s festival falls during the run-up to the general election, in which immigration is a key issue. Despite some of the divisive rhetoric from politicians during the campaign, Sam Holland, the festival director, says such conversations continue to serve as a reminder of why the festival should take place. 

“Every year, the programme feels like a rallying call against the voices who try to make us fear the people who seek refuge and blame all of our country’s issues on them,” says Holland. “The festival has grown bigger and faster than we could’ve imagined. We started out in one venue in 2016, and now we’re working in 20 venues.”

Last year’s festival attracted 13,000 people, and this year Holland and his team are expecting up to 15,000. The festival will host more than 50 events across multiple venues, including henna workshops, film screenings and musical performances from this year’s headliners, the Grammy-nominated husband and wife duo Amadou & Mariam

Here are some of Hyphen’s picks from the lineup. 

Mohand and Peter + Homescreen 

Mohand and Peter explores the friendship between a Sudanese refugee and a young man from Newcastle. Photo courtesy of Mohand and Peter

This two-man comedic performance takes the audience on a road trip through Sudan, telling the story of Mohand, a Sudanese refugee, and his friendship with Peter, a young man from Newcastle. Holland says: “It’s a beautiful piece about companionship and the importance of people from different cultures coming together.” 

If Henna Could Speak 

Ruqaiyyah Patel features in the exhibition If Henna Could Speak. Photo courtesy of Ruqaiyyah Patel/If Henna Could Speak

Curated by Tasnim Siddiq Amin, this interdisciplinary exhibition will explore the role of henna and its status as an art form in its own right. Featured artists include Sudanese photographer Mehaira Abdelhamid, French photographer Sylvie Belbouab and Nuz Fatima, co-founder of Huq That, a platform making the art of henna more accessible. The exhibition will showcase henna traditions across the Muslim world, explore how henna has changed through the ages, and offer the chance for attendees to see henna designs come to life on a live model. 

Amadou & Mariam 

Amadou & Mariam pictured at home in Bamako, Mali. Photo courtesy of Amadou & Mariam/Nicolas Réméné

Following their performance at Glastonbury in 2023, the musical couple will be headliners at this year’s Migration Matters Festival. The duo, who first recorded together in the 1970s after meeting at Bamako’s Institute for the Young Blind, are now one of Mali’s most popular musical acts. They have won multiple awards, including the Victoires de la Musique prize in 2005, the French music industry’s equivalent of a Grammy, for Best Reggae/Ragga/World Album. The duo have also supported acts including Blur, Coldplay and U2. 

Roots: A South Asian Heritage Project 

Routes to Roots is the result of creative arts workshops held across the region. Photo courtesy of Maya Productions

This multi-arts performance produced by Maya Productions celebrates the hidden stories and diverse voices and artistry within the South Asian community.  Routes to Roots brings together creative arts workshop participants from Bradford, Sheffield and Croydon as they explore the themes of migration, family and cultural identity through performance, visual art, film and podcasts.

TILKA: Making Theatre Amid Lebanon’s Collapse 

Fatima Ahmad in TILKA. Photo courtesy of TILKA

This award-winning documentary tells the story of five women who meet to create an original piece of theatre amid Lebanon’s collapse, using their own experiences as women fighting for their rights. Before the screening, the audience can join a workshop on the subject of home and belonging, run by TILKA producer Naqiya Ebrahim. TILKA won Best Local Documentary at the Lebanese Independent Film Festival and premiered in the UK at the Cambridge Film Festival. Director Myriam Geagea describes it as “a testament to the transformative power of art and self-expression”. 

(un)interrupted tongues 

The (un)interrupted tongues workshop will explore the 1947 Partition of India. Photo courtesy of Dal Kular

Through the exploration of the 1947 Partition of India, this zine-making workshop will provide a safe space for conversation, healing and creativity. The workshop is inspired by writer and community facilitator Dal Kular’s personal exploration of the partition in her book (un)interrupted tongues, and discussions with other descendants of the partition in Sheffield. Participants can expect to explore themes such as displacement, transgenerational trauma, healing, memory and strength. 

Gathering: Women of Colour Writing on Nature

Women of colour from across the UK have contributed essays to Gathering. Photo courtesy of Durre Shahwar and Nadia Sarwar-Skuse

Gathering is a collection of essays by women of colour across the UK about their relationships with nature. Edited by Durre Shahwar and Nasia Sarwar-Skuse, the anthology brings together multiple voices looking at nature in relation to a range of themes including mental health, colonialism, music and academia. Taylor Edmonds and Jasmine Isa Qureshi, who are contributors to the book, will join Sarwar-Skuse for a talk about their personal and creative essays. 

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