Founders, Israeli Lee Ziv (left) and Jordanian Jamil Sarraj connect Middle East nations and religions through a new musical project Musaique.She’s been featured in newspapers around the globe for her humanitarian work organizing money, supplies and the Israeli community to support the people in Gaza earlier this year. But professional peacemaker Lee Ziv, won’t stop at embracing the idea that she can connect people, through small efforts, in the Middle East.
Before the war with Gaza broke out in December, 28-year-old Lee, from Jerusalem, and Jamil Sarraj, who runs creative workshops in Jordan, had already met at a conference held in Jordan. After jamming a little, they decided to get a dozen friends together — six from Israel and six from Jordan, to make a little music and possibly something bigger in the peacemaking community. “We felt as though we created a new family,” Ziv recalls.
“Jamil and I started playing music and thought we had an amazing connection through this music. He called me and told me the United Religion Initiative could help us create a project. And we thought yallah, we should cooperate on music together,” Ziv tells ISRAEL21c. She has since collected over 40 musicians from across the Middle East region to participate in the project, Musaique.
“It’s not easy,” she admits. People across the Middle East can’t meet freely in each other’s countries: “We can meet only in Egypt, Turkey, or Morocco,” she explains.
Multi-faith band for peace
After a weekend jam session in a village on the Jordanian side of the Dead Sea a few months ago, the musicians — mainly amateur — decided to create a group. They plan on touring with Musaique to create and record music in Middle East locations, where it’s possible for all the members to cross political borders.
Now organized under the United Religion Initiative (URI), Musaique could be the Middle East’s first multi-faith, multi-nations band, which will place more emphasis on the peacemaking part of music, than music as a profession.
“We thought from the beginning that we’re not going to be working [necessarily] with professional or known musicians,” says Ziv. “We want to bring people who love music and who want to do work on interfacing through music.”
Middle Eastern sounds and instruments will be a natural way for people from these parts to connect. Ziv, who works for the Sulha Peace Project in Israel, says she imagines the day when people from all over the Middle East will be able to play music together at both the Wailing Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem, and the El Aksa mosque, the golden dome.
In many instances, Israeli Arabs who are Muslim, Palestinians, Bedouins, Christians and Israeli Jews already play music together in Israel, but not under a banner for peace, but as a natural form of cooperation as professional music makers.
Musaique, on the other hand, will emphasize the peacemakers’ dialogue created by way of the music. It will be a homegrown effort, initiated by the people who come from the region.
Living the music story for life
“There are so many problems in the region, not only in Israel,” says Ziv who lives in the Ein Kerem neighborhood of Jerusalem. “There is Armenia and Turkey, and now Egypt and Iran.”
After the first meeting in Jordan, “we feel we changed each other for life. I was just talking with Jamil and told him we’d have an amazing story to tell our grandchildren. But we’re not going to just tell it, we are going to live this story,” says Ziv who plays the drums and the new-age musical steel drum, the hang, also known as the PANArt.
During the weekend jam, their first meeting as a group, Ziv says the musicians felt a strong affinity for one another. “We felt as though we were practicing music for 10 years together,” she says. “All the music from this region, we have the same source. We came with Israeli songs with Hebrew lyrics, they knew the music and we know the tone and exactly what they are playing.”
A song called Oje aseman, a traditional Persian song, is the first that the band is working on. Next month a meeting is planned for Jordan in a village on the border with Syria. And in the near future, the group plans on taking the show on the road, recording in Amman, Jordan, and then onto Turkey with musicians they hope to collect from Israel, Jordan, Palestine, Morocco, Iran, Armenia, Turkey, and Egypt.
The musicians are already willing. “Every day I am getting phone calls,” says Ziv. “Our vision is to meet every time in a different place and then perform in a studio. We want to work with local communities in each place, and integrate Sufism and Kaballa and to create music around it,” she says. “Through this knowledge we can understand music includes everything.”