Singing My Story: Building Capacity with Newcomer Youth Through Songwriting, Recording, and Creative Arts-based Pedagogies

Researchers: Andrea Emberly1, Kael Reid1, Nadeen Abu Shaban1, Ameera Housein2
Affiliation: York University1, COSTI Immigrant Services2
Research Partner: COSTI Immigrant Services
Keywords: Refugee, newcomer, youth, children, music, songwriting, ethnomusicology, creative
Jump to: Full infographic, Methodology, Findings, Recommendations


Overview: This study explored the role music played in culture, integration, wellbeing, and creative expression for newcomer and refugee youth by involving youth in the co-composition and professional recording of original songs.

Objective: To investigate how collaborative ethnographic songwriting and music mentorship could:

  • Allow youth to reimagine themselves while expressing and documenting in song their lived experiences and perspectives related to integration and resettlement in Canada.
  • Promote well-being and a sense of belonging in youth.
  • Create possibilities for others to learn about the experiences, perspectives, and emergent identities of youth in newcomer and refugee communities.
  • Assist youth in building creative capacity and musical skills.

Research Justification: Research suggests that art and music are integral in helping newcomer and refugee youth reclaim their stories and share their lived experiences. These youth face substantial discriminatory assumptions about their lived experiences that create systemic barriers to their settlement and well-being. This project recognizes that youth have much knowledge to share and aims to amplify their voices through music.

Infographic Excerpt

Full Infographic

Executive Summary


Six youth, aged 10-15 years old, from newcomer and refugee communities in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) participated in semi-structured qualitative interviews, arts-based activities, and song composition. Six songs were composed through online and in-person sessions and five of these songs were professionally recorded in a studio. The youth also presented and discussed their songs at several academic conferences.


Youth used storytelling and songwriting to process and make sense of their complex experiences of displacement and resettlement.

Youth shared that they benefitted from collaborative music creation and mentorship.

Workshop for settlement organizations: Along with this summary of findings, outcomes, and recommendations, a 90-minute, interactive training workshop has been developed for settlement organizations.


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