A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a blog about musicians as global citizens, and cited several examples of what some of our colleagues are doing to create change in the world. I mentioned El Sistema, the Venezuelan organization that set out to bring music to thousands of children, as well as Daniel Barenboim’s West-Eastern Diwan Orchestra, which brings together Muslim and Jewish musicians with the goal of facilitating communication lines, and serves as a reminder that music is capable of transcending cultural and historical rifts. In this same vein, I came across an article in the New York Times about an orchestra called “El Gusto” (which can be translated to "the good mood"). At first glance, the article, written by Elaine Sciolino, seems to be about a performance given by this group on September 30th in Paris, but it is actually much more about how this group came to be. Its story is certainly an interesting one, and brings us back to Algeria, about fifty years ago, pre-1962, when Algeria was still under French Colonial rule. In those days, communities of peaceful Muslims and Jews interacted and played music together. However, Algeria’s new-found independence and new government meant that many people were relocated - the Jews left for France, and the Muslims were moved to new housing developments. Contact between friends was lost, and the music they created together, an “Algerian version of the popular Arabic-language music known as chaabi was forgotten.”
In 2007, a young woman named Safinez Bousbia,
came across one of these musicians in a shop in Algeria, and was so
fascinated that she decided to create a film to recount the story.
Along the way, she was able to find many of the musicians that had
played together before the Algerian War, and the concert that took place
on September 30th, was one of the events that the group has had the
opportunity to play since they have been reunited.
concert took place in the heart of the Marais neighborhood, which was
primarily a Jewish neighborhood before World War II. No longer
considered as such, it still houses the the Musee d’art et d’histoire du
Judaisme, where the concert took place. The Museum is currently
holding an exhibition called “The Jews of Algeria,” and this concert was
“the first performance by Algerians in the Museum’s 14-year history.”
Of course, what drew me to this article in particular is that it shows
once again the impact that music can have on social awareness and social
advancement. As Ms. Sciolino states, “It has revived friendships where
religion, class and ethnicity have no meaning.” It is an important
part of our lives as artists to bring people from different backgrounds
and cultures together, as well as to bring awareness to cultures that
have been at odds for so long and who are able to find ways to work
together and appreciate each other for what each has to offer. “El
Gusto” has performed in Paris, Berlin, London, Geneva and Brussels, and
will, in all probability, have more of an international impact once the
film makes its way to the big screen in different countries. It is
expected to be released this fall in Canada, Spain, Greece, Brazil,
Australia, Serbia, Hong Kong, and of course, here in the United States.
I, for one, can’t wait to go see it.
Questions for Dean Chin:
1. Why are school hours so limited, and is there any possibility of that changing?
2. What kind of orchestral program is there at Bard? Could there be a secondary concerto competition, as well as a chamber ensemble competition, in which Longy students could perform on Bard's campus? How can we take advantage of Bard's international campuses?
3. What are some of the goals you still have as a performer and educator that you hope to accomplish?