Away from home, the Middle Eastern band finds rhythm in Germany

BERLIN (AP) – When Eden Kami closes his eyes and starts singing ancient melodies in Arabic and Hebrew, Jewish-Israeli bassist Or Rosenfeld plays the double bass, and Syrian band member Vasim Mukdad creates sparkling sounds on his 12-stringed audience. on a musical journey through the Middle East.

But all three musicians live far away – in Germany. Returning to their home region, they will probably not be able to speak together due to long-standing hostilities between their governments and societies.

“It took us 3,500 miles to meet, even though it’s like a two-hour drive,” says the 37-year-old Muqdad, referring to the theoretical driving distance between their homes in neighboring Syria and Israel because people don’t really may legally move from Syria to Israel or vice versa.

“Borders in the Middle East are places where people can separate people,” Mukdad added.

Mukdad arrived in Berlin in 2016, a refugee who says he was tortured during the Syrian civil war. Kami, 35, an Arab member of the Druze minority in northern Israel, has arrived in the German capital in search of freedom and peace.

Rosenfeld, the grandson of Holocaust survivors, came in search of an affordable, cosmopolitan city where he didn’t have to get a second job to make a living as a musician. Boris Slavikowski, a drummer who recently joined the band, is an emigrant from Poland.

Kami initiated his group, Kayan Project, in 2017.

Kajan, the Arabic word for existence, is also the theme of their music and unity. By creating and performing songs, they are constantly learning how much they have in common and how close the roots of their cultures and languages ​​are, despite all the hatred on which they grew up.

“As musicians, we are all very similar,” said Rosenfeld, 32. – I wouldn’t even call us a mixed band, because “mixed” is just a concept when you put ethnicity first, but we put our music first. “

Kami, who grew up speaking Arabic and Hebrew, says it was natural for her to use both languages ​​for her songs.

“I definitely dream of them, sing in them, think in them and feel in them,” she told the Associated Press earlier this week in Berlin, where the band performed aboard a docked boat on the Havel River.

“I think it’s a very interesting way to live a complex identity, it’s not just one thing,” she added. “And I feel very happy to express it in art.”

In the Middle East, Syrians are still waging civil war, Israeli Jews and Palestinians have been fighting for their land for decades, and relations between neighboring countries have been marred by past wars. In Berlin, artists can celebrate what unites them, instead of mourning their divisions.

“The idea is that we can create a culture together, although we do not share 100% political views, origins,” said Mukdad, an atheist with Muslim parents. “We can start communicating with each other. We can start a dialogue. “

On Sunday night, Kami, dressed in a dark green dress and gray high-heeled shoes, opened the show with a Hebrew song called “Ahavat Neurai,” or “First Love,” followed by an Arabic song called “Ghesh” or “Cheat”.

Many of the songs played by the band were well-known Israeli or Arabic tunes; some wrote themselves.

“Language, literature, religion, culture, music, food, climate, geography – all these memories and images we bring with us,” said Mukdad. “And then, if you put it into music, it will be like a garden full of flowers of different colors.”

“Dancing for No One”, written by Rosenfeld, is the title track of their first album. It came out in April. The lyrics – the only song in English – are both melancholic and reassuring.

“I go where I want to be, I hear the river flowing to the sea, I feel the waves coming back to me … Thoughts are clear, my heart is beating slowly. The stones mark the way to the unknown, ”Kami sang as Mukdad hid his face behind his black curly hair, which played on the udder. Rosenfeld, whose bald shaven head was covered with a flat cap, moved to the rhythm, playing the double bass.

“They’re all fantastic musicians,” said Jonas Berndt, a Swedish musician living in Berlin who came to see the band.

The band was invited to perform at the opening week of the MS Goldberg Jewish Theater, another unique Berlin work.

The idea of ​​presenting art related to Jewish culture – theater, music, literature – on the boat was conceived by a group of artists who called themselves “Discover Jewish Europe” a few years ago. Due to the pandemic and financial problems, the exhibition boat opened only last week.

The boat, which in the past was used to transport gravel on German rivers, will be moored at Havel all summer, then in the fall will cross the Spree River in central Berlin, and in the future will travel through Germany on various waterways.

Max Doleman, one of the founders of the Jewish Boat Theater and the musician himself, explained the site’s mission.

“We are talking about dialogue, intercultural dialogue, the fight against anti-Semitism and racism,” he said. “We just hope that with our diverse program we can present much of what constitutes the existence of Jews in all its aspects.”


Religion Coverage Associated Press is supported by AP’s collaboration with The Conversation US with funding from Lilly Endowment Inc. AP is solely responsible for this content.

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