Features: Give a Home

by Catherine Trifiletti

Ed Sheeran plays an intimate living room concert for refugee awareness.

Photos courtesy of Sofar Sounds/ Mauricio Castro and Peter Braverman

Pop music star Ed Sheeran made a casual pit stop at a private residence in Northwest Washington between two sold- out shows at Capital One Arena to perform four of his chart topping tunes, including “Shape ofYou”and “Thinking Out Loud.”

The unconventional acoustic concert was one of about 300 shows in over 60 countries performed on September 20 that raised critical funds for 22 million refugees displaced around the world. For its inaugural “Give A Home” initiative, human rights organization Amnesty International partnered with Sofar Sounds to enlist a variety of musical acts to participate in a day of solidarity for refugees.

London-based Sofar Sounds (Songs from a Room) specializes in live intimate concerts meant to redefine the listening experience between musicians and fans.Typically, artists and venue information aren’t disclosed to ticket buyers up front, but the Sheeran show was an exception and 24,000 fans applied. In true Sofar form, the location wasn’t announced until the day before and other standard rules were upheld, like limited phone usage during the performance. Fitz Holladay of Sofar Sounds DC encouraged the group to “be present and enjoy the experience.”

“This is exciting for us because it’s a chance to bring a whole new audience to the idea that art and music are such a great platform for talking about human rights issues,” said Amnesty International USA’s executive director Margaret Huang. “[Music] touches you in ways that a Powerpoint on refugee statistics can never do.”

Sheeran shared in the excitement, looking out over a crowd of 90 guests, mostly seated cross-legged on the floor – a far cry from the colossal sea of screaming fans he is used to.“It’s really fun to look out and just see everyone smiling,”he said.

Activist Holly Branson was onsite to introduce Sheeran, who played at her wedding even after he made it big. The Amnesty campaign struck a chord with Branson who is in the midst of relief efforts after Hurricane Irma destroyed her family’s property on Necker Island. “There’s never been a more important time to stand in solidarity with refugees, especially with climate change,” she said. Huang echoed Branson’s urgency describing the organization’s efforts working with policy makers in Washington as the Trump administration aims to slash the number of refugees allowed in the U.S. by half.

Amnesty International Secretary General Salil Shetty was also there, rattling off statistics that listed the growing number of displaced persons in the world (the most since WWII), including ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya people in Myanmar and refugees who have recently fallen victim to climate events in the Caribbean. “We could all be depressed, but we are here to celebrate the humanity that exists between ordinary people,” he said,“and that’s really, really powerful.”

Emmanuel Jal, Holly Branson, Ed Sheeran, Salil Shetty, Rocky Start, Margaret Huang and Fitz Holladay. Photos courtesy of Sofar Sounds/ Mauricio Castro and Peter Braverman

Salil Shetty and Ed Sheeran. Photos courtesy of Sofar Sounds/ Mauricio Castro and Peter Braverman

This article appeared in the October 2017 issue of Washington Life.

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