Musical ambassadors for our planet

dima orsho and Kinan azmehIs there anything that communicates more effectively than music? It transcends language, with a power unmatched among the Fine Arts to cross boundaries, express and evoke emotion, and unite disparate people.

It’s the reason national anthems exist,  why charity singles raise so much cash, and why infectiously joyful songs like Pharrell Williams’ HAPPY can spur hundreds of spin-off videos representing communities around the planet.

An improbable trio of stellar musicians kicked off the celebration of May 9th’s Europe Day – part of the 2014 Amman Jazz Festival which took place in May across Jordan’s capital city.

Two Syrians joined the stage with a German to perform for a multinational audience – and underscored this writer’s belief that musicians make the world’s finest ambassadors. But since Pete Seeger passed away this year, are any musicians using their talents to spread environmental awareness?

Manfred LeuchterGerman composer and accordion player Manfred Leuchter and Syrian composer and clarinetist Kinan Azmeh have been musical partners for over 8 years. Syrian soprano Dina Orsho joined them onstage for an incredible concert of original compositions and improv, a virtuosic blending of wind instruments and mind-play by three unique talents.

Leuchter is an established ethno-jazz-and world-music accordion master who developed his very own musical genre merging occident and orient. In pieces where his instrument dominated, the music was similar to klezmer, energetic and joyful sounds that mimicked human voices.

Clarinetist Azmeh has a distinctive sound that’s gaining international recognition. Currently finishing his doctorate at the City University of New York, his usual point of US entry is New York’s JFK airport where immigration lines split for Americans and visitors.

Says the Syrian artist, “When I get to the desk, a third line opens just for me! And I’m led to a special room where I meet all my good friends from Syria, Lebanon, Afghanistan, and Iraq.” He good-naturedly explained how tightening security results in many hours lost in airport holding rooms for people from the Middle East.

During one of these layovers (his worst was 5 hours) he put the time to excellent use and composed a piece of music entitled Airports, which he dedicated to all Middle Eastern air travelers who’ve – well – been in the same boat. The piece calls for audience participation.

“Please sing loudly”, he asked the Amman audience, “so they can maybe hear us across the border.” (We were sitting about 45 miles from war-ravaged Daraa in Syria). Everyone was soon singing the haunting, wordless song, echoing Orsho’s extraordinary vocal lead.  A goose-bump moment that ended the concert on a surprisingly optimistic vibe.

If music can convert an international audience into a cohesive sound machine, transcending politics and tapping into our common humanity – why don’t we use it more often to communicate urgent matters of peace, understanding, and acceptance?

Silence the talking heads, muzzle the pundits. Set “Cradle to Cradle” to music.  Make an instrumental version of “Silent Spring”. This specific performance was funded by the European Union and the European Union National Institutes for Culture (EUNIC). Think they’d underwrite a similar musical program in support of the environment?

Just imagine.

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