Building bridges and connecting people

Soul singer Shirma Rouse – on her way to the Eurovision Song Contest in Rotterdam – has written a song which expresses how she feels about the city of Rotterdam. Hers is a vision that dovetails seamlessly with everything the song contest stands for: tolerance, the freedom to be yourself and supporting each other through thick and thin. Open up to celebrate!

She’s walking through her apartment in the West quarter of the city humming – to no one in particular – the song that she has written for Rotterdam. Make it Happen. as part of the run-up to this year’s Eurovision Song Contest. She has lived in this spot for four years now; near the city centre, but wonderfully peaceful and with lovely neighbours. This is a place that embodies all the reasons she fell in love with Rotterdam. Says Shirma, as she picks up the fallen petals from an opulent bouquet on her dining table: ‘I was born on Curacao, and came to the Netherlands when I was nineteen. I landed in Leiden, but it was Rotterdam that stole my heart, and it all started with music. You could always find me until quite late at the jam sessions in De Twijfelaar and Dizzy. She smiles, ‘I was always on the night train home’.


According to the soul singer, Rotterdam is the hub: ‘Here you can find any genre of music, played by people from all over the world. And –­ something that is so important for a healthy music scene – people are there for each other, providing mutual support and sharing happiness about the success of their fellow-musicians. Rotterdam is a truly multicultural city, and the people who have settled here are playing their music, which is a crucial element within many cultures. Jazz, soul, funk, rhythm ‘n blues, you name it; there’s room for every musical style. That’s what makes the city tick, constantly attracting new people from all over the world’.


After the music came the people, and soon the singer fell head over heels in love with the vibrant port city: ‘The Indonesian shops, the fragrances and colours of all those people, living in perfect harmony with one another. A new world opened up to me. Being in Rotterdam was like coming home, so eventually I moved here. There are few other places where I have experienced that feeling of homecoming; Harlem in New York or Shibuya in Tokyo, where you find the same vibe as in Rotterdam. There are no restrictions; you can be yourself because people take cultural differences in their stride. I love that about my city‘.


Solidarity and competition

Rouse thinks that the feeling of coming home, added to the multicultural mix and mentality, make Rotterdam the perfect city to host the Eurovision Song Contest. ‘It’s a funky festival for everyone, international pride enriched by music from all over Europe. It reminds us that there is somewhere you can be yourself and where you can party, which is precisely what this city has to offer. That makes it even more of a shame that we won’t be able to quite have the genuine and complete experience. The Song Contest is an amalgam of solidarity andcompetition in a very positive way. The fact that you are allowed to compete for your country promotes a team spirit. I attended the football World Cup in Brazil, and I saw all these groups of people from different countries walking through the city and partying together. That’s the vibe of friendly competition that we will sorely miss now’.


That is indeed a great shame according to Shirma; after all, everyone should experience the mega production that is the Eurovision Song Contest at least once in their lifetime. Her reaction when she was asked to write a song for the countdown to the event in Ahoy was immediately positive: ‘This is my way of expressing that feeling to the city; of making people feel that they can share the event for a while after all. I think we must do all we can to create the right atmosphere; we must talk about it and make sure that the festival can be seen and felt throughout the city’.


She sips her tea and starts humming again, slowly turning to her lyrics. At first they can’t be heard, but then suddenly she starts singing more powerfully:

We give glory to our heroes

Are you ready?

Keep building bridges

Tell me can we make it happen?

Divided we fall

We all need to make it happen in time


Then she looks up and concludes: ‘Building bridges and connecting people, paying tribute to our heroes; these are things we can only do together. We need one another and we rely on the people around us to make the city what it is. Rotterdam has always made me feel that I am the only one who can determine my own future. Then again, the city also makes me strongly aware that, although you hold your destiny in your own hands you are not alone. We are all working together. We all need to make it happen. Stand tall and united and make it possible, together; that’s what Rotterdam does like nowhere else’.

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