Singer-Songwriter Bob Ryan On Art, Storytelling, Music and Bosnia
Singer-Songwriter Bob Ryan began writing at a young age. For him, writing was the tool that he began to use so that he could tell his story and make himself understood. Describing himself as an emotional, introverted over thinker, the one thing that he did not want was to remain misunderstood.
A song by Paul Simon called “I am a Rock” left an indelible impression on Bob when he first heard the song in his youth. Even though the song is melancholy, Bob realized the power of a song in making people feel less alone. “You can say something in a song that you can never say to someone, and people will listen”.
As he found creative ways to channel authentic self-expression and to cultivate his multifaceted talents, he came to the realization that he is not alone and that there are people out there who share the same universal sentiments. This inevitably fostered in him a deep sense of connection and community.
Involvement With The Bosnian Diaspora Community
Bob became involved with Bosnians who were forced to flee their homeland as a result of the conflict in the 1990’s and settled in Phoenix, Arizona. Uprooted from their homes and starting life in a new country, many Bosnians arrived with little or no knowledge of English and were traumatized with what they had to endure in a country that was ravaged by war.
He began to write songs based on his experiences and the stories that he heard from his Bosnian friends in Phoenix. He then wrote a play based on the compilation of all the stories that he had heard from Bosnians who settled in Phoenix. He also produced a CD of music focused on BiH, which he describes as instrumental pieces that were used as transitional music in his play, as well as songs with lyrics that talk about the war and his view of how people felt and thought about their experiences during the war.
Art and Storytelling As Healing Tools
As Bob formed a deeper personal relationship with his Bosnian friends, he became more adeptly attuned to the ways in which they coped with their trauma and how they were provided the space to freely speak about and process their individual stories.
Through listening to their stories, Bob noticed that it was a way for people to confront their trauma, speak about it and get over it just a little bit. For some of his friends, nervous breakdowns and illness took over about three years after they moved to the USA, the result of bottling everything up and not processing what they had been through in wartime Bosnia.
He said that the mentality among the Bosnian community at that time was a willful neglect of the past. This was a coping mechanism. Since most people were not able to speak with their fellow Bosnians for this reason, Bob says some people began to grapple with what they had been through only fifteen years after they arrived to the USA. For others, being able to speak with Americans about their experiences gave them the chance to deal with their past through storytelling.
“It was a good thing that I got to know Bosnians in Phoenix, where once we were able to communicate (some already knew some English or a translator was used), they found it easier to speak with Americans about their experience’’.
From Arizona to Bosnia
For the first time in 2010, Bob held a series of performances in BiH. He teamed up with a multi-talented friend from Phoenix and they played together first in Phoenix, and then went to BiH and held concerts in Mostar, Sarajevo and in the village of Breza.
Several weeks ago, he came back to BiH and put on a lively performance in City Pub in Sarajevo and held a series of art and storytelling workshops at the Izvor Center in Sarajevo. He combines his lectures with a collaborative and inclusive approach, because since he is bringing his own frame of reference to the workshop, he wants people to speak about their own experiences. By speaking about things that are universal, it is a way to foster a sense of communalism.
He believes that art can be a useful way for people to tell their stories. “Telling our story helps us to heal from the hurts of our past. Talking helps, and that is the premise. Art is a way of telling your story, and you can tell your story in songwriting, making videos, painting, etc’’. So, he decided to address the three areas of writing, music and visual art and have people, artists and non-artists, come together to present their works to one another.
For Bob, this was a chance for people to share something that touched them deeply. The workshop was open to both artists and non-artists, although everyone who participated either had some knowledge and skills in art or was interested in art. This was Bob’s way of providing people with a space that was conducive to breaking down mental barriers and paving the path towards self-expression that was devoid of fear and uncertainty.
“I try hard to free people to do what is in their heart. When we came to Bosnia, it is what we wanted to do. How can we help? We don’t have any money or business skills. But we have the ability to encourage people to feel free and share what is in their heart. This is what we are trying to do, and bit by bit, we have taught English classes and held day camps for children. Life does not have to be the same each day. You can try something different and hope for something more. It is easy for us to sink into the normalcy of our lives. I hope this workshop was encouraging for someone to try something new and to believe that what they are doing is worth it”.