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Norwich transformed young asylum seeker's life

PUBLISHED: 10:52 04 February 2019 | UPDATED: 16:11 04 February 2019

Salman Toheed performing in Norwich   Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Salman Toheed performing in Norwich Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

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A musician who found refuge in Norwich as a child asylum seeker will show his appreciation at a special concert in the city.

Songwriter Salman Toheed arrived in Norwich as a child asylum seeker. Now 22 and a talented musician, he is back in the city which offered him sanctuary to help celebrate the welcome which transformed his life.

Salman left Pakistan with his mother and brothers when he was 14, with no musical training, but has gone on to perform at festivals across East Anglia and win a scholarship to study music at university.

“Music has always been big part of my life. I do not know what happened, but I remember waking up one morning at the age of 15 or 16, despite not knowing how to sing or sing or play any instruments, and having the realisation that I wanted be a musician,” said Salman.

He now writes songs in English, Urdu, Hindi and Punjabi and plays guitar, bass guitar, and some piano, as well as producing music on his computer.

Salman, who went to Norwich’s Hewett School, has played at Latitude, the Norfolk and Norwich Festival, the Holt Festival, Jimmy’s Festival in Suffolk and many more. He was made a youth music ambassador for Norfolk, was a semi-finalist in the East Anglia Music Talent Awards and last year won a scholarship to study global popular music at Goldsmiths University in London.

Lauren Henery of the Norwich International Youth Project, which works with refugees and asylum seekers aged 11-25, said: “Salman and his brothers have been in the UK for seven years and are still waiting on a Home Office decision regarding their status. This scholarship is life transforming for him and hugely encouraging for all of us working in the refugee and asylum seeker charity sector.”

On February 5 Salman will be playing at a celebration evening to mark the second anniversary of Norwich being named a City of Sanctuary. His older brother, Safian, who arrived in Britain with very little English, is now in his final year at university and was part of a panel with MPs at a Parliamentary event, will help compere the evening. Salman will perform alongside a former member of the Syrian National Orchestra and other refugee and asylum seeker musicians. “I’ll be playing some old favourites for the fans as well as singing in four different languages and reintroducing Norwich to the Punjabi blues,” he said. Salman founded the band Blasian with two friends while in Norwich and also performed with three local theatre companies.

“Norwich is more than a home to me. It really is a fine city. I always find peace there; the people are so kind and helpful,” he said.

“My first impression of Norwich was very different than what it is now. I did not know anyone and it was very quiet. However, now I know so many people and always see them in the city and on the bus.

“The transition to my life as it is now has been difficult at times, but it has also been incredibly rewarding. I’ve been lucky enough to sign the Nelson Mandela book during black history month, placing my own name alongside the likes of Barack Obama, Will Smith, Muhammad Ali, Jay Z, Beyonce and David Beckham.”

And his plans for the future? “To share more music with the world, to get inspired, and to inspire others.”

Celebrate Norwich’s role as a City of Sanctuary, at Norwich Arts Centre, St Benedicts, 6-9pm on Tuesday February 5. The evening will include music from, and interviews with, Salman and other refugees and asylum seekers, plus food, talks and the presentation of Sanctuary Awards to three schools, the Norfolk Museum Service and the Norfolk Knitters and Stitchers group.

The evening is for all those who have contributed to creating a culture of welcome for refugees and asylum seekers in Norwich and for anyone interested in finding out more about Norwich City of Sanctuary and how to get involved. Free tickets, while still available, can be booked online.

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