Middle Eastern Peace Community: Musaique San Francisco Bay Area, CA

About a month before Musaique, a cross-cultural musical group, arrived in the San Francisco Bay Area, Israel bombed the Gaza strip, again. The Palestinians fired rockets at southern Israel.  Iran is being threatened to be sanctioned more because of their developing nuclear program and Iran is under threat of war, violence, and bombing from both Israel and America. Most likely it won’t happen.Overall increasing tensions between Middle Eastern countries are lamented by peace campaigns that unite people across boundaries, from different religions, and of different cultures.   Musaique is a music project that engages peace activism across borders. Ten musicians from several countries in the Middle East and Europe including Israel, Jordan, Palestine, Egypt, and England came together and joined with American musicians come together for solidarity in peace.

Musicians came together at the Quantum Center for Healing and Transformation, hosted by Jah Levi, in the San Francisco Bay area to unite those who hold high ideals for peace. Inside the building there is singing, dancing, and an art space with ceremonial masks, and hand-crafted instruments including guitars inlaid with translucent shell. The house is built around a giant boulder, which is more than a story high, and which people sit on at the level of the second floor. The cultural center was created as a welcoming space for world music artists, and as a healing center.

Lee Ziv is tall, slim, and so blonde. She came to America from Israel. She has a very commanding posture. As she sat cross-legged, her green eyes gazing into the room at the Center for Quantum Healing and Transformation, her face had the quality of a profile from a classical painting. Here in this warriors’ world, under a dark new moon of the spring solstice March 21st, 2012 San Francisco Bay Area, at a time when the human race everywhere is unshackling the chains of new slavery, she wears an armor of sunlight, unconquerable energy.

Musaique (see website) is the project she has been organizing for the past several years, working on peace activism in the midst multiple Middle Eastern conflicts.  She brings musicians together in an effort to break down the barriers that the borders and conflicts impose upon the region. The participation of these musicians to cross borders for peace can be seen as a threat to their home countries, and several musicians decline to participate because the military situation assumes affiliation with neighboring warring countries. Currently, Ziv is working with nearly 40 inspired musicians for this project to organize musical performance in different countries throughout the Middle East.  The idea was borne at the United Religions Initiative meetings that inspire the end to religiously motivated violence and encourage interfaith cooperation. The global grassroots peace organization sponsored Musaique to travel to America. Many of the members of Musaique are also active within the group Musicians without Borders, which is an international non-profit using music to heal war torn cultures.

After the sun sets, the musicians gathered in the living area with one small amplifier. They freestyle warm up as a mostly acoustic ensemble, with one amplified bass guitar. From them came a steady mutter of voices and sounds, interleaved with at least a dozen different kinds of instruments- a noise like a Middle Eastern camp. Men and women with musical instruments such as the oud, ney, violin, hang drum, setar, and guitar blended into a musical arrangement. The lead singer began to sing in soulful Hebrew.  He sang strong, achingly comforting pieces. Music swelled-when the drums and instruments combined in unison, it was immense music, immense feeling. There was the familiarity of worship, and he sang a collection of devotional music which easily projected across the room. I sat listening as they were introduced being from their respective countries.  They performed several songs which I remember well including part of the Song of Songs of Solomon , a song of unity with Germany, they also sang some of the music that’s found on their website here. A Zikhr was held, with one dancer spinning, to the trance of chanting. At that moment, a thought came into my head which stopped my breath – there would be no moon at all that night. Even if the thin crescent of a new moon had escaped my notice, the energy of the night was dark, and the spinner dressed in white looked like an angel.

Many people spoke about the healing power of music. It symbolizes a form of hope, and for some it becomes a refuge. Not only is the sounds behind the music deep and meaningful, but the musicians are young masters. They come together for these performances only, and rarely have the chance to ever see each other. The music is incredibly in sync for how much time they have to coordinate rehearsal, showing their musical ability. Afterwards, some of the local SF Bay Area people who attended the performance began to spontaneously play music with Musaique. For a moment, there was a trumpet, and a French horn joined into the group. The music was going bananas with immensity at this point.  The room was flooded with dazzling lava tube lights, which people were dancing in and taking photos of each other.

After the music is finished, George Kandalaft, the Oud player sits next to me on the couch, and tells me about himself; that he is Palestinian and he got a degree in music therapy and teaches children how to play the Oud. Notably, he taught a child with no arms to play with his feet, and the child had his first rehearsal a month or so before.  He told me that he was born in Nazarath, and lives between Jerusalem and Palestine and travels across the border every week. I also had the opportunity to chat with Meira Segal, who is also a music teacher in Israel. She plays the ney and does sufi dancing. She was telling me that Israel is very populated, with people living on top of one another and she was having a beautiful time travelling to see the redwoods and other natural places. Another member of the group, Dvir Cohen Eraki, a Yemeni Israeli, who is a vocalist, singing in Hebrew and Arabic approached me. It was not his first time in America. He travels here with two other musical projects. One is the Diwan Project, which performs traditional Israli music form the Jewish diaspora in a world fusion mixture of cultures and sounds. You can see a video here.

Members of a group of Middle Eastern Peace Activists have been working with Jah Levi, a Jewish American, on his latest recording projects.  Jah Levi and the Higher Reasoning traveled twice to Israel to co-create the International Healing Music Festival in Israel. He has participated in the Jerusalem PeaceMakers, which is a group of spiritual leaders and mystics who are giving talks and organizing meetings for Middle Eastern conflict resolution within the center of Jerusalem and the Holy Land. He is emerging a new genre of music that connects him with his Jewish heritage, and is bringing together musicians from cultures that are traditionally in conflict.    He is creating a blend of klezmer, reggae world fusion, and resurrecting Hebrew songs in new world fusion recordings. He released the album “Face the Jewsic”  in 2011 with the group Jah Levi Klezmer Experience available online . Another recording project includes one group called Levi’m (listen here),  which is uniting cultures traditionally in conflict from America, Pakistan, Israel, Iran, etc. 

Overall peace music projects seek to expose people to that realm of music that is borderless. The religions and cultures do not have borders and are constraining music, religion, and community from forming a cohesive or holistic bond. Something inspires me, as if that at any moment the wars would come to an end, as unbelievable as that is. The conflict that can occur between generations could be a huge revolution. The youth growing up, reject a considerable part of humanity’s long tradition of conflict and bloodshed.  Customs, traditions, art, the entire cultural heritage can undergo a radical re-evaluation. The change can include a large number of areas about the attitude of war. Total reform would be necessary in schooling, reading material, film, to convey the scope of the transformation towards shared world unity, in all it’s ramifications. Will we live to see the end of religious and nationalistic motivated violence and aggression? Is it completely impossible? Who are you to end a war? Who are you not to?

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