This Thursday evening the enchanting ensemble will be performing for an İstanbul audience in a “Coexistanbul Peace Concert,” at the Sultanahmet Amphitheatre, an event organized by the Intercultural Dialogue Platform (KADİP), the Greater İstanbul Municipality’s cultural body Kültür A.Ş. and the Koza Iş ve Kadın Derneği, a committee with the objective of creating an international network amongst women in business.
Led by Oscar-winning composer Yuval Ron (who composed the film score for “West Bank Story”), the group has come a long way since they first formed in 1999, with their spiritual, unassuming concerts and pure aspirations intriguing and engaging audiences worldwide. As an artist, composer, producer, educator and peace activist, group founder Ron works internationally in film, television, dance and theater counting amongst his many accolades invitations to perform for the Dalai Lama, head of the Sufi International Order Pir Zia Iniyat Khan and the king of Morocco.
Yet Ron insists that despite international praise and an ever-growing fan base, the focus of his music is now, as it always has been, simply on promoting peace and love in the Middle East and to stand firmly by all innocent victims.
The Middle East conflicts have inspired various peace projects through music but in your opinion can such projects and the concept of making “musical peace bridges” really make a difference?
We find that our works energize the people who want to work for peace yet have lost hope or energy. Our music provides them with inspiration to continue to support peace, rather than war and violence and our works have encouraged thousands of people to change their stereotypical perspective of the other side. It is a long process and it is not something that will change the world in one day or in 10 years -- we have always been realistic in our aims and aspirations -- but it is better to put one seed of peace in the ground everyday until peace comes than sitting and doing nothing.
Have you seen any particular reaction or had inspiring positive feedback that has made you feel that your project is hitting home and making a difference? Is there a particular example you could give?
I have many examples: Many people told me that my concerts made them go back to support peace organizations. A Syrian woman came to talk to me after a concert I gave in New York and told me that my concert helped her change her mind about the situation in the Middle East. An Armenian woman came to me last week in Los Angeles after a concert I gave there and told me that she was happy to see me presenting Turkish and Armenian music together and that made her feel that she is more than a victim, because she refuses to live like a victim simply because she is Armenian. My music made her feel that she is first and foremost a human being and moreover she was happy to see Armenian musicians playing together with Turkish musicians.
In Seattle, a group of Palestinians were very aggressive towards me before the concert; after the concert, they loved me and invited me to come to their family home in Ramallah and to an Iranian mosque where the leaders of the community did not want me to come and give a concert in the mosque, but finally gave me permission to perform in a hall. The old ladies from the community came to me after the concert and kissed my hand. They gave us so much love because they felt we loved and respected their tradition.
A Palestinian woman came to me after a concert and said that the fact that I play the oud an dedicated myself to master an instrument from her culture showed her that I respected her culture and I respected her and her people, adding that I was the first Jew she felt these positive feeling towards.
A Jewish woman from Los Angeles sent me a letter last week explaining that her father, originally from Iraq, was dying in the hospital and since he loved my music, she played my CD for him. When he heard the music he forgot about the pain and that music kept him smiling for days in the hospital until he passed away. There are so many more stories I can give you about the impact of the music on people around the world -- this is what keeps us going.
You have toured all over the world, but what has been your best performance and where has the group enjoyed performing most?
One of the most amazing performances I suppose was at the Fez Sacred Music Festival in Morocco in 2009 in the garden of the king of Morocco; however, there have been so many great experiences with the Ensemble it is impossible to recount them all here. Performing in the Sultanahmet area on Thursday will be a wonderful experience for us I am sure.
The situation in the Middle East can sometimes seem depressingly like a lost cause. Has there ever been a moment where your work has all seemed in vain or when you have felt like you were going in circles?
No, I never feel that. If you look at the statements of the Israeli leaders and Palestinian leaders over the last 50 years you will see that slowly they are changing their statements and slowly moving from complete disregard and no recognition of the other, to recognition of the other and agreeing to terms they or their previous leaders refused to in the past. They have still a long way to go before reaching the compromise that will allow peace, but in a historical perspective they are further along from were they were in the 1960s -- this is something we cannot forget.
The group transcends religion and political difference -- is there a focus on the brand of religious dialoguing that has become popular in various Western countries or a prescription to any particular movement, or is this purely music with a message of peace?
We do not affiliate ourselves with any movement or political party nor with any nation or country. We make music, we support peace and condemn violence and we try to spread a message of compassion, mercy, love and hope, always standing on the side of the innocent victims.