Syrian refugee brings traditional music to busker festival

The Syrian refugee arrived in Leamington on September 29, 2016, with his family, a few clothes, and his oud, a guitar-like Arabic instrument.

'The oud brought me my life back. It brought purpose and positivity back into my life'

Samer El Mandl is a Syrian busker who will be performing at Walkerville Buskerfest. 0:37

When Samer El Mandl arrived in Leamington 11 months ago from Lebanon, he had lost almost everything, except his passion for music.

The Syrian refugee arrived last September along with his family, some clothes, and his oud, a guitar-like Arabic instrument.

"I made sure to bring it with me. It really has been my life line over the last few years," El Mandl said in Arabic.

El Mandl has always had a passion for music, but stopped pursuing it when he was 20 because he said people wouldn't take him seriously.

He left Syria five years ago, when the war started to affect his livelihood. El Mandl and his family were living on the streets in Lebanon, struggling to live, when he saw an old man busking on a boardwalk, playing an oud.

El Mandl borrowed money from his friend and bought the instrument the same day.

"The oud brought me my life back", El Mandl said. "Not only did it bring money for my family, but it brought purpose and positivity back into my life". 

And now, he's bringing that purpose and positivity to the 2nd annual Walkerville Buskerfest.

Samer El Mandl and his daughter Shukran will be performing at the Walkerville Buskerfest on August 11 to 13. (Rima Hamadi/CBC)

El Mandl will be performing at the festival from Friday through to Sunday, at least a couple of times each day.

Someone else will be joining his act --  his 6-year-old daughter, Shukran.

"She's like my voice when I can't sing anymore," he said. "She keeps me going, and her excitement is infectious."​

Kyle Sipkens, the Artistic Director of the Walkerville Buskerfest, first heard about El Mandl from the New Canadians' Centre of Excellence Inc., and said he is excited to have his talent on board.

"Not only is he an incredibly talented busker, but he also represents part of Windsor's population and community that needs to be represented here," Sipkens said. 

Kyle Sipkens, the artistic director for the Walkerville Buskers Festival, says the festival should represent Windsor's diverse community. (Rima Hamadi/CBC)

Walkerville Buskerfest kicks off Friday at 6 p.m. and wraps up Sunday at 6 p.m.

Performers will appear throughout the weekend on Wyandotte Street, between Lincoln Road and Devonshire Road. Admission is free, but performers will 'pass the hat' for tips.