On March 28, I made my first voyage deeper in the West Bank of Palestine. My initial stop was to Al Kamandjati to teach a jazz workshop. Al Kamandjati, which translates to The Violinist, is a vibrant music school in Ramallah that offers music education and ensembles for Palestinian musicians throughout the West Bank. Most of the programming is centered around Arabic traditional and Western classical music, however there is a growing interest in jazz. I immediately connected with Dimitri Mikelis one of the lead instructors. Dimitri is an oud and piano player from Athens, Greece and received a masters from Berklee College of Music in Boston. We bonded over Bean town and together we lead a workshop with the jazz combo he instructs. We rehearsed several standards including one of my Monk favorites, “Well You Needn’t” and worked on improvisation, ensemble playing, and listening exercises. The young Arab musicians were very spirited and a gas to work with.
After the workshop, I hung out with Dimitri and he told me about his story and we spoke openly about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Growing up in Athens, Dimitri studied Arabic traditional music and it was the music sparked his connection to the region and culture. His objective for teaching music in the West Bank is to help Arab youth musicians grow and enrich their lives and communities. Dimitri is a master musician and could be playing anywhere in the world but chooses to dedicate himself to music and the seeds of Palestine. I hold a lot of respect for him and all the other instructors at Al Kamandjati. Below is a picture of Dimitri giving a piano lesson to a young student.
Here's a clip of Mahmoud improvising on his violin. He's only been playing for five years and has beautiful tone and great musicality.
Following my visit, I explored Ramallah with Rasha, who is a friend of a friend and grew up outside the city. She was very sweet and was a great host. As the night moved along, Dimitri called and invited us to a “dinner party.” It was midnight. I was interested in going but Rasha was hesitant and said she could not go to a man’s house she did not know. All day I had been feeling the intense cultural differences between Palestine and the Western World. I showed Rasha a few pictures of Dimitri and she warmed up to the idea. We then found out that it was Maddalena, a female friend of Dimitri’s who was hosting the dinner party and she agreed to go. The party was huge feast with several of the instructors from Al Kamandjati and their friends. We jammed out and I sang them some Elvis tunes. That's alright Mama.