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Read passionate stories about music and joyful memories, written by us or our friends!

Music Experiences in the West Bank #3

by Sarah Vasen, December 22, 2020

Last December I moved to Bethlehem, Palestine, to experience music life and do research on music in the West Bank. My goal: a documentary. I want to show, visually, how powerful music can be in a place where daily life is interrupted by a strong political conflict. With my affection to the Arabic culture and experiences as a musician in the Netherlands, I decided to go to Palestine. In this blog series I would like to share with you some of the musical experiences I had.

#3 The Kanabay Project

Together with Bisho, who had been my first friend in Bethlehem, I am waiting for the pick-up truck that is supposed to help us move our sofa. Tonight will be the second Kanabay (“sofa”) event, a project started by musician Zaid, Bisho and myself. I know that the motivation for Bisho, who is not a musician, to start this project was to meet more foreigners and bring Palestinians and foreigners together. The concept is that we move our beautiful sofa to different places every other week and bring people together for a jam session. The first event in Zaid’s living room had been successful and Darwish, a small new café, approached us to have the next event there.

When we arrive with the sofa, we get a very warm welcome accompanied by a bowl of lentil soup and a cold beer. Soon people begin to arrive. We light candles and greet everyone in the softly lit, slightly disordered but peaceful bar. I am cheerful and glad to see my friends bringing in their instruments and amplifiers, with everyone in a very excited mood: ready to jam. By 8 pm, around 15 people have arrived and are now sitting on colorful couches, exchanging thoughts about the turbulent political situation and the songs we could play. I notice that Zaid is in very good spirits. He tells me that he just got a scholarship for his cum laude graduation. We drink a celebratory whiskey and he unpacks his Buzuq, taking the lead to start the jam session. The first song is one of Zaid’s favorites, Wa’salama (deliver peace). Philippe connects his electric guitar, Sara takes out her bass but prefers to start singing, and a German tourist takes out a ney, a beautiful wooden flute. Eden unpacks her violin and Ismael decides to run home to get his violin. I am not yet ready to play. I want to observe the first joyful moments of them playing together. I take a seat on one of the couches and start writing:

“I feel so fortunate that I can experience this enormous change within me. During the first few weeks I had been afraid that I might say something that would give offense. Now I can express anything I am thinking and people will explain everything to me. We all know that just a couple of kilometers away, people are protesting, people are being arrested and people are displaying their anger towards the occupation. And we are here, creating a moment of happiness and togetherness. Is that ok? Can we just enjoy this moment while we know what is going on outside? Yes, of course. It is actually the only thing we can do. Here in Darwish everybody feels safe: safe to express their feelings, safe to show emotions. A mix of Palestinians and foreigners, old and young. So many different backgrounds, but enjoying this moment individually and collectively”
I see Philippe trying out new things on his guitar and laughing at himself, probably because his attempts didn’t quite work out, but I can’t hear it above the assemblage of all the different instruments. Sara starts to play her bass. She had told me that this was only the third time she had tried to play her bass, but that she really wants to try something other than singing. She chose bass because it is something girls don’t do here. She wants to show that girls should be able to do whatever they want. Zaid inhales and sings such a beautiful sound, with so much emotion. I know that a couple of years ago he would have been too afraid to do this, but now he is ready to open up. He has a hidden world within himself, and through this sound and his facial expressions we receive a brief glimpse of this world. Later, he looks directly at me and I know he is saying that I should get my violin and join in.

As I unpack my violin Zaid says, “D-minor.” Because the place is so small we are all standing close together around the entrance. About 15 others are listening, moving slowly and occasionally chatting. I wait for a couple of minutes before joining in, trying to focus on only the music, the rhythm and the atmosphere. When I start with just a few long tones, people smile at me and as every minute passes my shyness fades. I am adding color to the jam, but I also feel like I want to take over the melody at least once. Somehow, in turn, the others begin to take solos and at one point I take the lead. Scary? No, I feel that I am doing exactly the right thing. I make eye contact with the other musicians and we exchange a sense of deep understanding. Musicking has been a way for me, a foreigner, to connect to the many musicians in Palestine. At that moment it does not matter that we grew up in different worlds or what our life experiences have been. Fifteen minutes later we are building towards the finish. Without any talking or physical expression we just follow each other through the music and create an end together. Silence. Clapping.

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