Student artists gathered last Saturday, April 30, in the “War3House 3,” a music venue located in the Ville, to perform for the Swarthmore community. Although not sponsored by the college, the concert was organized by the Orpheus Review club, a student-run online music publication that releases reviews on music and creates playlists for college students.
With a mix of both soloists and bands, Fouad Dakwar ʼ22, Tayja “T” Sallie ʼ25, Aryan Ashraf ʼ25, Ava Pressman ʼ25 and Rosemary Durkee ʼ22, Spencer McQuaig ʼ25, and Nya Kuziwa ʼ22 performed on Saturday. In an interview with The Phoenix, Pressman discussed why she became involved in music and performing, which inspired her to perform at War3house with Durkee.
Pressman first got involved with music in elementary school when she joined a choir for the first time and has been singing in choral settings ever since, for over ten years. In high school, Pressman also taught herself guitar and began gathering with friends to play informally.
“Here at Swat, I’m part of the College Chorus and Garnet Singers, which has been such a great community to find other musicians that I can jam with and form little groups like the one I have with Rosemary,” she said. “Looking back on my musical journey up to this point really makes me remember how much of a supportive, creative community I have felt within the world of music, and why it keeps drawing me back as I move through different educational institutions.”
The concert at the War3house 3 came after a long absence of student artists performing for the greater Swarthmore community. Small performances on campus — such as at the Crumb Cafe and Jazz Poetry nights — began this semester, but last week’s event was the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic that artists performed for both Swarthmore students and residents of the Ville.
Dakwar, who performed on Saturday with fellow band members Wu, Cassel, and Farall, explained the live performance scene at Swarthmore before the pandemic.
“Back then, student bands and musicians were in abundance, with concerts being organized almost every weekend. In fact, the last time I played the Ville was at a house show on Feb. 21, 2020, with our since-defunct band, Sophomore Slump,” Dakwar said. “Now that Swat’s music scene is starting to find its footing again, I couldn’t wait to get back on stage to share all the new tunes and skills I’d picked up over the past two years.”
Dakwar also wrote and performed in “R3TURN: a Palestine Pop Punk Musical,” which was put on between April 8 and 10 in the Lang Performing Arts Center’s Frear Ensemble Theater. For the War3house 3 performance, Dakwar had to transform the musical’s score to be played without the context of a theatrical performance to accompany it.
“For me, music is first and foremost a vehicle for storytelling and social change. In its theatrical form, R3TURN told a magic-filled story of Palestinian suffering, resistance, joy, and liberation through a rock concert aesthetic,” Dakwar said. “I’m ecstatic by how naturally those same sentiments could carry over solely in the music and lyrics in an actual concert setting.”
The venue was secured by Ashraf, a first-year, who also performed at the War3house 3. After hearing about the space from Arabic Literature professor Benjamin Smith, Ashraf met with War3house 3 owner Rob Borgstrom, who was also interested in getting Swarthmore students to start performing again in the venue.
After Ashraf learned that students with The Orpheus Review had also expressed interest in a potential collaboration with Borgstrom, he joined forces with them to recruit student performers, schedule rehearsal times, and plan the logistics of what ultimately became Saturday’s event.
“I originally went to Rob in hopes of organizing a solo show. I performed at a lot of shows back home in Georgia, but I usually performed as keyboard accompaniment to covers. I had been writing songs for a while, and I had already sought out opportunities to perform those songs on campus, first through the IC winter art house last semester, another as a performer at Crumb Cafe,” Ashraf said.
For Ashraf, the concert at War3house 3 was not only an opportunity to showcase his talents as a songwriter but also to help strengthen the relationship between the college and surrounding area.
“A War3house 3 show would have been a way to perform my original songs in this way but separate from Swarthmore College — I saw it as me performing more as an actual performer, not just a college student with a hobby. Eventually, when the original proposal morphed into the student showcase that it became, I grew even more excited to perform at the show, not only to establish myself as a musician but also to help rekindle the connection between the college and the town and the live music scene here.”
Ashraf emphasized that the attention and engagement attendees gave to performers was part of what made Saturday’s event so successful.
“My favorite part about performing was seeing everyone’s complete attention, not only to my set but to everyone else’s. It was so heartwarming to see such sincere support, especially when you’re on that stage performing songs that you often wrote alone in your room,” Ashraf said.
Ashraf also debuted multiple original songs and said he was appreciative of the response they received from the audience.
“I debuted a song at the War3house 3, an almost seven minute ballad called ‘Oh.’ It was a really personal song with heavy lyrics, and it was so gratifying when I saw everyone listening so intently all throughout the seven minutes. I loved how loud they cheered, and I loved how eager everyone was to tell me how much they loved my lyrics after I was done,” he said.
Overall, Ashraf said he was gratified by the strong turnout and support from both college students and the greater Swarthmore community.
“As an organizer, I was also really glad that so many people came — even a few faculty members. Plus, so many people from Swarthmore town and Delco came! It was so great to see.”