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How Grammy Award-winning Producer Ian Brennan Tells The Story of Hardship Through Song

By: Olivia Gerling| Once We Had a Home Album | Image credit: Marilena Umuhoza Delli

Grammy award-winning music producer, Ian Brennan, doesn’t simply write music. In fact, his role is much deeper when it comes to cultivating songs and telling tales. Brennan is, rather, a narrator that shares the truths of the oppressed one note at a time.


His latest work, Once We Had a Home, tells the stories of Rohingya refugees through the use of unique points of view and instruments. However, the story does not stop or start with Brennan’s work. In fact, it began in 1982, when the Rohingya people were made stateless on the land they had lived on for thousands of years. They became unlisted as one of the Myanmar government’s national races and continue to be known as illegal immigrants today.  


“There’s such upheaval around the world that sometimes, major crises get lost,” Brennan said.


Even when this crisis first came about, Brennan said it was reported on rarely by most news outlets.


“These projects are last about us. We are facilitators and we really want the emphasis to be on the voices and on the people and their collective story.”


To create this album, Brennan traveled to the Rohingya refugee camp in southeast Bangladesh, where nearly one million people were housed. Immediately, he learned about the disproportionate treatment of women, who were often exploited for sex work due to food shortages. Still, the morale in the camp didn’t falter. As Brennan worked with various groups in the camp, without prompting of what the refugees should sing about, Brennan found that, without fail, group after group sang only about two topics – genocide and love songs.


Though his work with the Rohingya people is not Brennan’s first project, each album he creates has managed to teach him something new. Over the many years he has worked with cultures of varying backgrounds, Brennan has grown to understand the roots in which music comes from.

“I believe these are voices that are of the now, meaning to me that they are very cutting edge usually, but some people might dismiss them because it’s rural voices versus urban voices oftentimes,” he said of the music and voices created by the Rohingya people. “Yet the roots of almost all popular music are rural, so I think the denial of that – that narrative that has been cut out to a large degree – is a dangerous one.”


Brennan described one moment in which a vocalist shared the ordeal he’d faced being exiled from his land. In this moment, the singer’s voice suddenly broke and he began quivering. Soon the emotion radiated to his bandmates and others gathered. Brennan said that in this moment, he was overcome but turned away out of respect to the people. Brennan’s album not only gives the Rohingya people a voice, but also a platform to help others understand the hardships they have fought through.

Image credit: Marilena Umuhoza Delli

He believes that, at its highest calling, music can be social work. Brennan has visited a variety of countries to provide representation to those who need it the most – people of Rwanda, Malawi, South Sudan, Cambodia, and more. Though his projects have resulted in awards, such as winning a Grammy, his ultimate ideals involve using sounds of the people to share untold stories of the voiceless. View our exclusive interview with the award winning producer below.

Ian Brennan Interview| Once We Had a Home

Grammy Award-winning Music producer Ian Brennan with Journalist Olivia Gerling


Produced by Ian Brennan| Executive producer: Marilena Umuhoza Delli | Photos & video: Marilena Umuhoza Delli

Once We Had a Home | Music Selections are listed below.

1. My Body Aches for Home….Mohammad A., 35

2. The Soldiers Burned Our Mosque (They Stole Our Souls)...Shona M., 47

3. We Are Stuck in the Camps….Sirajul, 52 Sample: []

4. Why Did You Leave Me, My Love?….Mohammad A., 35

5. Let’s Go Fight the Burmese (They Raped Our Women)...Mohammad R., 55

6. She Comes to Me in Dreams….Mohamad Y., 35

7. I Am Falling in Love (She Looks Beautiful in Black)….Showkat A., 51

8. I Want to Marry, Amira, From the Camp (If I Cannot, I’ll Hang Myself)….Mohammad T., 38

9. My Family Prays for Us to Come Home (Here We Have No Life At All)…..Abdul H., 32


It is clear Brennan’s ultimate goal is not to make money for himself, but to help the people who most deserve to be heard. For those who want to provide monetary support for initiatives to the Rohingya people, use Human Rights Watch to donate here.

Learn more at:

Ian Brennan
Image: Marilena Umuhoza Delli

Ian Brennan's Latest Book

Brennan's latest book is titled Missing Music: Voices from Where the Dirt Roads End which aligns with his quest to provide musical platforms for underrepresented nations and populations around the world. The book is available on Amazon, Google Books, and

For more information on Ian Brennan and violence prevention, follow him below at:



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