Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Mojo in the Negev

On March 24, 2011, Heartbeat Jerusalem lead 30 Israeli and Palestinian young artists through a musical and creative retreat in Negev/Naqab Desert. The diverse group included musicians, songwriters, and rappers from East and West Jerusalem, Nazareth, Tel-Aviv and in between. This was one of the most moving artistic and human experiences of my life and collectively the group generated a higher level of spiritual and creative power.

The goal of the program was to help the artists develop their artistic voice, musicianship, and to offer a space for the Arab and Jewish youth to work together and build relationships through the creative process. The desert served as a tranquil and spiritual place for the group to explore themselves and each other.

On the first night we had open show/jam session where different combinations of artists performed and collaborated. First to take the stage was Nem Tudom, one of the most spirited group of musicians and individuals. The band includes Heartbeat veterans Guy Gefen and Dekel Shula Adin. Check out the bliss and mayhem:

The following day we broke the artists up into three bands and began working on songwriting from the ground up. We exposed the bands to revolutionary artists of the last century and lead a workshop on their music and influence. To get the juices flowing we listening to and discussed artists like Bob Marley, Dead Prez, Fela Kuti and such. The ball was rolling and the bands began to improvise and develop song ideas through stream of conscious exercises and collaborative sharing and improvisation. The band I was working wrote a song based on dreams and desire for someplace new that was real and attainable and the rainforest became our setting. Check us out rehearsing the end of the song:

Later that day Mustafa "Muzi" Gaber shared with us the lyrics of his rap he wrote that morning. Siwar Mansour translated the Arabic into English. This was a heavy piece told from two narratives; the first coming from an Israeli soldier, who belittles the Palestinian character, exclaiming, "your ideas do not matter here... you are only a product of a monster." Mustafa answers the soldier with a first person narrative, enlisting hope in his people; "don't stop, you have to fight for every inch of land, and I fight with my pen about how things are going to change... This is the start, but there has to be an end; there has to be an end to everything that ever started." Listen as Muzi and Siwar as they share the lyrics with our band for the first time: 

Following dinner all the musicians reunited for a bonfire jam. At this time we had only been in the desert for 24 hours and it was clear to see and feel the sense of camaraderie and trust that had developed through the first day. Check out Dean Frechtman leading the group in a Louis Armstrong fire scat:

We spent the final day rehearsing and developing the music with our respective bands. Each of the Heartbeat staff members lead workshops in different musical genres; Arabic traditional rhythms, Jewish folk music, reggae, and I taught one on American blues to pop. A fair amount of the Palestinian musicians are really into hip-hop and it was cool to give them a little background on it's roots in the blues and R&B.

In the afternoon, with the entire group, we headed deeper into the desert to reflect and absorb the stillness of the Negev. Now we had been there for two nights and it felt like we had experienced weeks together, creating and constructing our stories, imaginations, and realities through song. On our trek we came to the edge of a plateau and gathered in a circle to share our deliberations.

To conclude the retreat we had a big finale concert in the middle of the Negev. Each band performed the songs that they had written. So many interesting ideas and sounds came to life under the heat of the Middle Eastern sun. It was incredible. Here we we're in the land of intense political and human struggle and these young artists had visions beyond conflict and unbelievable empathy and trust for one another. These are the people that can sew this afflicted region together through love and creation.


To check out more photos from the retreat and learn more about the Heartbeat movement visit:

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