Georgia Lederman: The union of beauty and sorrow: The use of music in peacemaking

 

The union of beauty and sorrow

In a search of hope for tomorrow

Peace in a musical sigh

Asking and answering, why?

–Georgia Lederman

 

Though policies and laws are critical in the development of just, sustainable peace, mechanisms that stimulate nonintellectual understanding are essential in shifting the global paradigm. According to Amanda Brown, “Theories and case examples reveal[] that the arts can uncover and communicate aspects of human experiences that more linear or scientific modes of inquiry cannot.”[1] Brown holds a Master’s degree in Expressive Arts in Conflict Transformation and Peacebuilding and a Bachelor’s degrees in Theater Arts and Peace, Conflict, and Coexistence Studies—yet it does not take a scholar to recognize the value of art in peacemaking. In fact, art provides by definition, different way of knowing and understanding, accessible to scholars and laypeople alike. Brown states: “knowledge can be corporeal, sensory, relational, experiential, emotional, empathic, and spatial.” In this response, I will talk about the importance of music in peacemaking.

The Quran articulates the importance of difference—navigating our differences helps us define ourselves and perpetuates understanding. Verse 49:13 states: “O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. Indeed, Allah is Knowing and Acquainted”. Though music is intimately related to heritage, place, identity and ethnicity, it is universal. It is therefore a model for the existence of difference and the reality of our commonality.

“Havenu Shalom Aleinu” [We brought peace upon us] is known as the “Jewish-Arab Peace song”.[2] Written by Shlomo Gronich and Ehud Manor, the song was originally titled “Aleinu-Ma Ana Ajmal Min Salam” and its lyrics were in Hebrew. During the Intifada in 2000 (a particularly harsh moment in Israeli-Palestinian relations), the composers adapted the song into a peacemaking tool. The songwriters collaborated with Peace Child Israel, an educational program for children to foster peace and understanding between Israeli and Palestinian youth. When the songwriters decided to expand the song, musician Magid Abu Rokun agreed to collaborate, writing Arabic lyrics and adding Arab musical patterns.[3] The song articulates messages of collaboration, commonality and hope. One striking part of the song is the acknowledgement of a contentious history combined with a resolute willingness to start a partnership—a friendship. The song combines violins drums, bass, percussion, guitar, oud, piano, darbuka, flute, nai, violin, clarinet and voice.

This song is significant because it acknowledges difference while recognizing common ground. The song begins with a wordless call that could be featured in Israeli or Arabic music. Subsequently, there are two Hebrew verses, the chorus in Hebrew, two Arabic verses and a chorus in Arabic. Finally, the song concludes with the chorus, sung simultaneously in Hebrew and Arabic:

 

(In Hebrew)

We have connections between us

Of which our parent never knew

We have discussions among us

Which were never heard before

We are here for everywhere

We are a bridge and

a ladder

for all those who dream

For all those who have dreamt

And still in our life time

And still in our days

We will sing with our voices

Chorus

Hevenu Shalom Alinu

(We brought peace upon us)

Shalom Alinu

Hevenu Shalom Alinu

Peace upon us

(In Arabic)

If your faith can become mine

Your faith and dreams too

Then we could build a new world

Of peace and love

When the intention becomes clear

All people become human

A family drinks from the same cup

The cup of peace

Chorus

Ma Ana Ajmal min Salaam

Ma Ana Ajmal min Salaam

(In Hebrew)

Yes our parents ate the sour grapes from yesterday

But our teeth you will be surprised

have not decayed until now

(In Arabic)

together we will unite our hearts

together we will open our hearts

with the children of peace

with the children of dreams

Chorus

(In Arabic and Hebrew)

 

This song reveals the musical similarities between Israelis and Palestinians. Middle-eastern music, that is both Israeli and Arabic music, often uses variations on the harmonic minor scale. Additionally the act of playing together reveals the possibility of creating something beautiful through collaboration. This a symbolic representation of the importance of collaboration that we have seen in more concrete areas (such as economic partnerships, for example). Not only is the act of playing music together emblematic of the potential that follows collaboration, but the lyrics mimic this very sentiment: “We have connections between us”. Importantly, neither group is sacrificing identity—each people sings in his own language, while the melody is shared.

The second important element of this peacemaking initiative is that it is captured in video. As emphasized by Search for Common Ground, media is imperative in the spreading of a paradigm of peace. At the beginning of the video, we see men and women hugging and shaking hands. Later, there is a brief clip of children singing—an inspiring rhetorical device that reflects the lyric of the song: “together we will unite our hearts/together we will open our hearts/with the children of peace/with the children of dreams”. Furthermore, while the Palestinians sing the Arabic verse, the camera pans over the Israelis, enthusiastically dancing along.

I am tempted to view this video in terms of power dynamics: the title of the song is in Hebrew, it was originally a Hebrew song and it opens with a Hebrew verse. However, my desire to see equality and a balance of power (i.e. justice) is overwhelmed by the beauty and power of forgiveness and friendship. “Together we will unite our hearts…together we will open our hearts”. Music allows us to open our hearts; it is personal and intimate in the same way as aroma, foods and family. Music is a cry for reunion—insofar as the flute was torn from its roots, it is crying out to be reunited. Insofar as musicians search to create something sublime, they are looking for reunion with that which is essential, beautiful, and divine.

[1] http://dmeforpeace.org/discuss/contributions-arts-peacebuilding-evaluation

[2] http://www.richardsilverstein.com/2007/09/28/arab-jewish-song-for-peace/

 

[3] Ibid