Stop A War, Share Some Music (part 1)

Posted on August 2, 2008


Author’s note: This post was originally written for the Young Public Servants website.

I’M USUALLY QUITE A SNOB when it comes to the neighbours. I believe in the inherent goodness of humankind, but because I live in a condo located in a not-so-great area in Pasay City, populated by a lot of transients—and because we’ve already experienced a break-in where the only things that were stolen were MY wallet, MY everyday jewelry, and MY cash—I tend to be suspicious of the folks living around me. So when I see our Chinese, Korean, or Middle-eastern neighbours, I hardly acknowledge them. On some really bad days, I pretend they’re not there.

But all that changed—at least for my Iranian next-door neighbours—the day one of them knocked on our door and handed me a CD labeled “Traditional Persian Music.” As it turns out, my fiancé once brought them a CD of some playlists that he had put together, and they just wanted to return the favour. A fan of Middle Eastern music, I thanked the guy with my sweetest smile and quickly put the CD in the player. I loved the compilation from the first beat. Now I smile at the neighbours every time I meet them in the hallway.

* * *

Fast-forward to my recent life-changing experience covering the Rainforest World Music Festival in Kuching, Sarawak, Malaysian Borneo. It was my first foreign trip as a journalist, my first time in Malaysia, my first world music festival—and I was the ONLY Filipino journalist among around 400 mediafolk from around the world. I wanted to soak in as much of the experience as I possibly could, and I set out to LEARN about other people and their cultures as much as enjoy truly great world music.

Adel Salameh One performer who struck me the most was Adel Salameh. Dubbed by the BBC as “one of the world’s finest oud players,” Adel is a Palestinian national who has been playing and promoting traditional Arab music around the world for over 20 years now. I was taken in by his very solemn, almost monk-like appearance, his deep voice, and his stately composure. During his group’s press conference, he reiterated how important it was for him to bring his music out so that the rest of the world will know what Palestinians are going through right now.

“Palestinians can be artists too, but the whole world thinks we’re all terrorists,” he said emphatically.

That got me. After the press conference, I tried to corner him for an interview.

“When you are under Occupation, everything stops,” he explained. “They will try to snuff out everything about you: your identity, your culture, your right. But we as a people have a right to our own culture—and once people start asking for their rights, you can’t stop that.”

Another journalist in the small circle that had formed around him asked Adel how he got around to play his music in other countries.

“Twenty-two years ago, when I started, it was very difficult. How can you even travel when you don’t have a passport? There was even a time when I was in [a European country] and they wouldn’t give me a visa because I was Palestinian and ‘all Palestinian are terrorists.’ But now things are changing… I’ve been living in the U.K. for fifteen years already, I have a British passport, so I can move around more easily.”

“You cannot become known as a Palestinian artist without fighting for it. You have to fight for it,” he reiterated.

Adel recalled a time in the late ‘90s when he was part of a project that brought children from Palestine and Israel to live together for two weeks in the United Kingdom, where they could play, learn, and experience things together.

“It was very important for us to do this,” he pointed out. “It was a very impressive and emotional experience for all of us, and we saw that the problem wasn’t with the kids—the kids had no hang-ups—it was with the adults. But we wanted to do this so that the future generation will not make the same mistakes we did.”

He continued, “It was very symbolic for all of us; sadly, we could not continue the program because of the situation.”

His experience moved Adel so much that, to this day, he dedicates a lot of his music to women and children.

“They are the ones who are suffering—it’s very emotional [for me] to see children suffering… There is also one piece that I dedicate to all mothers. When there is a war, women lose their sons, their husbands. They are the ones paying for our mistakes.”

At that moment, I felt only profound respect for this man who had to fight for what he wanted to do and what he believed in, and in a manner that brought people together instead of dividing them. I have always been into Middle Eastern music, always been curious about that part of the world, and now that I have met Adel Salameh, I am thankful that I met one Palestinian who has helped to educate me a little bit more about the situation in Palestine and what life was like for them.

And of all things said in that interview, what struck me the most was the fact that, in spite of what he and his countrymen were going through in the midst of “Occupation” (he hardly used the word “war”), Adel NEVER uttered a single derogatory remark about his Israeli neighbours.

That puts me and my sometimes-racist side to deep, deep shame.

Copyright © 2008 Niña Terol