Music with Mates helps migrants feel at home in Australia

Kevin Mitchell and Christine  Leah are two of the trio behind Music with Mates. Photo: Michael Rayner

Kevin Mitchell and Christine Leah are two of the trio behind Music with Mates. Photo: Michael Rayner

Music bursts through language barriers, so it’s only natural that Melbourne – Australia’s spiritual home of live music – would welcome new migrants through gigs.

Christine Leahy, Kevin Mitchell (a.k.a. Bob Evans and frontman of alt-rock band Jebediah) and Madeline Leman (frontwoman of the Desert Swells) launched Music With Mates in May with the aim of helping young migrants connect to their new home by getting them out to live gigs. And Melbourne’s vibrant music community has wasted no time in putting out the welcome mat.

“We wanted to show how inclusive and kind-hearted Australians are – and I think we’ve certainly started to prove that,” Christine says.

“Being married to a migrant and having many friends who are new Australians, I know how hard it can be. Music is a great leveller – especially for young people. It’s uplifting and a fantastic way of connecting a group and making them feel like a real part of the community.”

What sparked the idea?

“In 2015, I was living in Europe. There were a lot of migrants arriving from war-torn countries and a lot of anti-migrant sentiment around. These people just wanted somewhere to call home, but were facing so much opposition. I really felt as though I needed to do something to help,” Christine says.

“Kevin and I both love music and heading to gigs with mates. Once I got back to Melbourne, we caught up and realised we were both feeling the same way, and we came up with the Music With Mates concept.”

How does it work?

“The program relies on volunteers and the generosity of the music community. Venues and musicians donate tickets and the intention is to take the same group of migrants to three or four gigs together so they can form those first friendships,” she says.

“We hope they’ll continue to meet up after that. They also get to practise speaking English and help start to understand our culture.”

Who’s on board?

“First up were Richmond’s Corner Hotel and the Northcote Social Club. As well as free tickets, they’ve also helped out with food and drinks – they’ve been amazing,” Christine says.

“More venues, such as 170 Russell, Max Watt’s and The Night Cat, have started supporting us, as well as music festivals like Laneway and some great musicians.”

Tell us about your nights out

“One of our first gigs was with Busby Marou and The Teskey Brothers at the Corner. The guys were so kind to the migrants who came along to the gig – so welcoming. It was a great vibe,” Christine says.

“Feedback after the Melbourne International Jazz Festival was awesome, too. Everyone loved the experience and were so grateful for the tickets.”

What’s next?

“We’ve had really great support from the music community. We’ve been to a wide range of gigs and venues … We now also have the support of the Arts Centre, which is fantastic.

“Our next gig is with Parlour Gigs. We will be holding a house party with live music and an open mic for those that want to sing/play. We’re really looking forward to that one,” Christine says.

How can people help?

“Check out our Music With Mates site,” she says. “People can make donations to help us grow and improve, or to refer new Australians (aged 18-35 and planning to stay in Australian permanently) who might benefit from the program. It’s the time when people need the most help, and just reaching out can literally change lives.”



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