Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Music hath charms . . . but

Here's a poignant story I've had on my "I should blog this" stand for some time, but it's hardly a daily news cycle kind of thing. It shows that music has power that can transcend politics -- and that politics can be a powerfully destructive force that soils almost everything it comes in contact with.

Four Palestinians who play classic Palestininan music on traditional instruments (here's a YouTube and another) call themselves the Oriental Music Ensemble, but they are hardly ever together. They can practice together only when they're on tour. Here's why, per the NYT:

"The men are a cross section of the Palestinian experience in miniature: two Muslims, a Christian and a Druse. They live in Israel, the West Bank, East Jerusalem and abroad. The West Bank member cannot go to Israel because of Israeli travel restrictions on Palestinians. The Israeli Arab cannot go to the West Bank because of Israeli travel restrictions on Israelis. The one who lives in Sweden has a Jordanian passport but can travel to neither the West Bank nor Israel. And the one who lives in East Jerusalem said he is denied entry to Jordan for what he called “political reasons.”"

And yet they continue to do it. "We have to keep on," says Ahmad Al Khathib, who plays the oud, which is a bit like a lute. "It's part of our identity, this cultural struggle." They've been together, after their fashion, since 1997. They respect that the music has its own integrity, that "it shouldn't be so connected to the political situation." Yet politics obviously impinges on them and sometimes they write pieces with a political cast -- one inspired by the Israeli siege of Ramallah, another named after an Israeli prison. They played at a festival in Morocco in July.

It must be excruciating and exhilarating simultaneously, what they go through to keep making music. I guess I won't whine too much about not being in a chorus that will challenge me musically just now.

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