La Convivencia and the West-Eastern Divan
» download [mp3, 2:57]
Marc Sanchez, associate producer
The audio above comes from one of our "Revealing Ramadan" participants, Ibrahim Al-Marashi, who appeared in our podcast and radio program. He’s an Iraqi-American who currently lives and teaches in Spain, and has lived in California (Los Angeles and Monterey) and Turkey. During his interview, he talked about one of the things that attracted him to Spain: La Convivencia. This idea, which translates as “the coexistence,” describes a cultural harmony between Muslims, Jews, and Christians and was first coined when Spain came under Muslim rule beginning in the 8th century. Al-Marashi goes on to talk about his Lebanese-Christian grandmother and his interests in shared Muslim-Jewish-Christian ideas.
Al-Marashi’s interview was fresh in my mind when I happened to catch an airing of the documentary, Knowledge Is the Beginning. The movie follows a season of the West-Eastern Divan, an orchestra conducted by Daniel Barenboim.
The orchestra is made up of young Israelis and Arabs, and Barenboim’s hope is to show how music can bring people together. The idea for the group was born out of Barenboim’s friendship with Edward Said.
Barenboim was first raised in Buenos Aires, the son of Russian Jews, and he began studying piano and giving performances at an early age. His family relocated to Israel 10 years after Barenboim was born, and he was on the conductor’s track before his thirteenth birthday.
Said was born in Palestine before the founding of Israel. His family moved to Egypt after the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. He went on to study at Princeton and Harvard and to teach English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University. He was a prolific writer, and staunch advocate for Palestinian rights. He passed away in 2003.
In addition to his political writing and cultural criticism, Said was a passionate fan of classical music. So much so that he was the classical music critic for The Nation. It was through music that he and Barenboim first bonded. And, it was music that opened a dialogue to their differences. Said and Barenboim knew that coming together — just bringing your ideas to the table to talk — can open a lot of doors. From the orchestra’s Web site:
"Music by itself can, of course, not resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict. Music grants the individual the right and obligation to express himself fully while listening to his neighbour. Based on this notion of equality, cooperation and justice for all, the Orchestra represents an alternative model to the current situation in the Middle East."
(Top photo: Ibrahim Al-Marashi.
Middle photo: Edward Said, left, and Daniel Barenboim, right, chat during an awards ceremony in Oviedo, Spain in 2002. Photo by Pierre-Philippe Marcou/AFP/Getty Images.
Bottom photo: The West-Eastern Divan rehearses at Royal Albert Hall in London for the BBC Proms in 2009. Photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images.)