Kirsten Grishaber, Associated Press
BERLIN (AP) — As Eden Kami closes his eyes and sings ancient tunes in Arabic and Hebrew, Jewish-Israeli bassist Or Rosenfeld plays the double bass, and Syrian band member Wassim Muqdad creates sparkling sounds on his 12-string oud, they take over. viewers on a musical journey through the Middle East.
But all three musicians live far from there – in Germany. Back in their home region, they probably wouldn’t be able to perform together due to the longstanding animosity between their governments and society.
“It took us 3,500 kilometers to meet, although that’s like a two-hour drive,” says Muqdad, 37, referring to the theoretical distance between their homes in neighboring Syria and Israel, because people can’t legally move from Syria to Israel or vice versa.
“Borders in the Middle East are places where people are divided,” Muqdad added.
Muqdad came to Berlin in 2016 as a refugee who claims he was tortured during the Syrian civil war. Kami, 35, an Arab from the Druze minority in northern Israel, came to the German capital in search of freedom and tranquility.
Rosenfeld, the grandson of a Holocaust survivor, came looking for an affordable, cosmopolitan city where he didn’t have to work part-time to make a living from music. Boris Slowikowski, a drummer who recently joined the band, is an immigrant from Poland.
Kami formed his band Kayan Project in 2017.
Kayan, the Arabic word for existence, is also the theme of their music and bonding. As they create and perform songs, they constantly learn how much they have in common and how close the roots of their cultures and languages are, despite all the hatred they grew up with.
“We are all very similar as musicians,” says Rosenfeld, 32. “I wouldn’t even call us a mixed band because ‘mixed’ is only a concept if you put ethnicity first – but we put our music first.”
Kami, who grew up speaking Arabic and Hebrew, says it was natural for her to use both languages in her songs.
“I definitely dream in them and sing in them, think in them and feel in them,” she told The Associated Press earlier this week in Berlin, where the band performed aboard a moored boat on the river Gavel.
“I find it a very interesting way to live a complex identity that is not one thing,” she added. “And I’m very happy to express that in art.”
Back in the Middle East, the Syrians are still fighting a civil war, Israeli Jews and Palestinians have been fighting for their land for decades, and relations between neighboring countries are marred by past wars. In Berlin, artists can celebrate what unites them instead of mourning their differences.
“The idea is that we can create a culture together, although we do not 100% share political views and backgrounds,” said Muqdad, an atheist of Muslim origin. “We can start talking to each other. We can start a dialogue.”
On Sunday night, Kami, dressed in a dark green dress and gray stilettos, opened the show with a Hebrew song titled “Ahavat Neurai” or “First Love”, followed by an Arabic song titled “Gesh” or “Deceit”. “.
Many of the songs the band played were well-known Israeli or Arabic tunes; some they wrote themselves.
“Language, literature, religion, culture, music, food, climate, geography – all these memories and images we bring with us,” Muqdad said. “And then to put it to music, it would be like a garden full of flowers in all sorts of colors.”
“Dancing for No One”, written by Rosenfeld, is the title track of their first album. It was released in April. The lyrics – the only song in English – are melancholic and full of hope.
“Going where I want to go, I hear the river flowing to the sea, I feel the waves returning to me … My thoughts are clear, my heartbeat slows down. Stones point the way to the unknown,” Kami sang, while Muqdad hid his face behind black curly hair, playing the oud. Rosenfeld, whose bald head was covered with a flat cap, moved to the beat, playing the double bass.
“They’re all fantastic musicians,” said Jonas Berndt, a Swedish musician based in Berlin who came to see the band.
The group was invited to play at the opening week of the “Jewish theater-boat M.S. Goldberg” – another unique Berlin creation.
The idea to present on the ship the art associated with Jewish culture – theatre, music, literature – came up with a group of artists who call themselves “Discover Jewish Europe” a few years ago. Due to the pandemic and financial problems, the showboat only opened last week.
The boat, which in the past was used to haul gravel across Germany’s rivers, will be moored at the Havel all summer, then move to the Spree River in central Berlin in the fall, and travel across Germany on various waterways in the future.
Max Döhlemann, one of the founders of the Jewish boat theater and a musician himself, explained the institution’s mission.
“It is about dialogue, intercultural dialogue, the fight against anti-Semitism and racism,” he said. “We just hope that with our diverse program we will be able to represent much of what constitutes Jewish existence in all its aspects.”
The Associated Press’s religious coverage gets its boost from AP’s collaboration with The Conversation US, funded by Lilly Endowment Inc. AP is solely responsible for this content.
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