When Farooq Al-Sajee took the stage in Vancouver, B.C. on Sunday for a musical performance, there was a lot on his mind.

He thought of the friends and family he lost in wars in Iraq and Syria - but he was also thinking of his new life in Canada.

“I think Canada is the best place to be,” said Al-Sajee. “I’m very lucky to be here, I’m very lucky to make it.”

The 24-year-old was born in Baghdad, where life was challenging from the start.

When he was six, his father was assassinated by Saddam Hussein’s regime. His two brothers were later killed by a mortar shell while playing.

“Things [were] starting to get disastrous,” said Al-Sajee. “You lost a lot, you suffered a lot, you struggled to even find the little things that you want to achieve.”

For safety, Al-Sajee and his mother, a math teacher, moved to Syria. He began to study literature at the University of Damascus – and discovered his passion for music. 

“Things started getting easier when we moved to Syria,” he said. “It brings some relief for me… it’s an outlet for things that you want to escape from.” 

But then things became dangerous in Syria as well. 

“But I didn’t give up,” said Al-Sajee. “I said, okay, this is life.” 

Eight months ago, Al-Sajee and his mother came to Canada as refugees. He’s been working in Vancouver, but hasn’t given up his love affair with music – particularly with a string instrument called an oud, the middle-eastern version of the lute.

He’s also been able to connect with some Vancouverites who share his same passion, and on Sunday the group took the stage at St. Helen’s Anglican Church in West Point Grey.

“The idea was really simple: bring him together with a group of local musicians,” said Rev. Scott Gould, the church’s rector.

“We started out side by side formally connecting, then we started to interact a little more, and there started to be this cross-cultural thing.”

Al-Sajee agrees, noting that art is for connecting with people.

“When you see a person from a different background, listen to that music, get that reaction,” he said. “It feels very nice because that reaction is genuine.”

With files from CTV Vancouver’s Alex Turner