It is known that in the 11th and 12th centuries, in what is called the Golden Era, there were collaborations between Jewish and Muslim Mystics; i.e. Kabbalists and Sufis.
Perhaps it is not a wild guess that Poets, Musicians and other sciences and art forms benefited from such connections and helped facilitate the social and cultural flourishing of that time. Academics and researchers of Middle Eastern Music, acknowledge that the musical scales used in the Hebrew and Arab traditions of the region are identical, regardless of the religious background which may determine the content and context but not the actual building blocks, the musical language itself.
In modern Israel one of the most popular forms of music is what is called ‘Middle Eastern’ or ‘Oriental’ music. It is a hybrid of Middle Eastern scales and pop music arrangements and song structure. What is it in the collective psyche of Israel that is so drawn to this type of music? Some would suggest that it is because many Jews immigrated to Israel from Arab countries, and although this is certainly a major factor, perhaps there is also another perspective that can offer an insight into the longing for Peace in the region that is being expressed through this musical and social phenomenon.
Over the last 20 years in Israel, there is flourishing of musical projects, orchestras, and contemporary artists that are integrating Arab scales and instrumentations. Musical instruments such as Oud, Qanun, Kamanche, Ney and Zurna are finding a place outside of their traditional and classical context and are used in contemporary music. Rita’s Persian album, Ehud Banai’s collaboration with George Yussuf Simaan and the latest album of hip-hop band Hadag-Nachash, are just a few recent examples.
Orchestras and ensembles such as Diwan Saz and The Mediterranean – Andalusian Orchestra and youth musical projects such as ‘HeartBeat’ are all expressions of what can be seen as a cultural step towards deeper connection between Israel and its neighbours, bypassing the political surface. When cultures and belief systems meet on a deeper level, the normal intellectual barriers can be bypassed because it is the actual experience that informs the cultural connection rather than a set of preconceived ideas supporting certain political agendas.
Piris Eliyahu, a well respected Middle Eastern musicologist, who was born in Dagestan and immigrated to Israel to become a renowned composer and educator, (that performed at UPLIFT Festival in Byron Bay with his son Mark Eliyahu), agrees: “…In both Jewish and Muslim music traditions scales may have different names, but mostly are actually the same. There is an enormous revival of contemporary Middle Eastern (or ‘Oriental’) Music that include inter cultural collaborations in Israel and the world and that this kind of music finds its way to many stages and gains more and more interest by audiences around the world”.
What would happen if more politicians, social leaders, business entrepreneurs and scientists would join what artists are already doing, and share a musical experience before meeting and discussing their matters? It will evolve and transform everything they do, because Music has real power to facilitate change through affecting perceptions and expand conscious connectivity. What would happen if we would see more musical collaborations between Israeli and Palestinian musicians? Those who do collaborate are already facilitating Peace making in the most profound and direct way because they come together as co creators and not as co destructors. As Piris Eliyahu says: “I believe that the only way to evolve the socio-political jammed situation is through musical notes…” Music has been used since the dawn of Humanity as a medium for healing, reconnecting and building cultural bridges.
The Middle East can become and actually BE a beacon of light, a living example of the culture of actual Peace, if the gift of Music would be consciously used as a facilitator for Peace making.