Belonging to The Land: Chai For All in Palestine

by David Mowat in Bristol, England, United Kingdom

We did it
On 24th April 2018 we successfully raised £2,458 with 54 supporters in 56 days

To co-create tour & record a new show about Human-Land relationship via a band study tour of Occupied Palestine, working with Palestinians.

by David Mowat in Bristol, England, United Kingdom

Palestine Cultural Programme Report

What we did: the facts

Chai For All, that's Marianna, Katie, David, Michael Simon and Knud were based in Beit Sahur from April 9th to 17th. The scene was set on day two by Baha Hilo's geo-political tour of the area, explaining and showing the detail of the land grabbing and slow ethnic cleansing plans practiced by Israel. 

We performed Longing Belonging and Balfour three times, in Beit Sahur, Haifa and Nablus (to about 300 people).  We attended two jam sessions, one of which was a way to get to know our fellow Palestinian musicians, in particular Moussa on clarinet, Khadr on percussion (who performed LBB with us twice as Simon had to leave early), Shafik on kanoun (a kind of plucked dulcimer), Fares on ney flute, and Tarek on oud. 

We delivered four workshops: Simon a music therapy one in Fares' school for autistic children, Michael a story telling one in the Lutheran school, Marianna a stage presence one to local performers and Knud and I a jazz workshop to some of the musicians. Katie shadowed Moussa at a local  school and went to Ramallah to buy a mijwiz, Knud was on a mission to buy an oud and ended up commissioning a Bethlehem oud maker for one, Michael and I went on a walk with Hassan Muamer of Battir village (pic of an ancient burial cave Hussan is showing) to hear how he and others successfully registered the whole of their lands as a UNESCO world heritage site, resisting the encroaching Israeli separation barrier construction in the process. 

I went on two walks around the urban fringe of Beit Sahur, we were taken on an art walk exploring the practices of painter-performer Riham Isaaq and artist-ecologist Vivienne Sansour and were taken round a stunning modern eco-house built by Zaid Hilal's father. We assembled for a composition workshop -joined at this point by our UK tour guest Zaid Hilal- on our penultimate day and were shown round the old city of Nablus, astonishingly revived after its destruction by Israeli tanks about 15 years ago. Not least, we chilled laughed and played till the early hours over Palestinian 'Wise Man' beer (the Cremesan wine had mixed reviews) in the Al Jisser bar. 

An essential part of the experience came at the very end: a grilling by Ben Gurion airport Israeli security for nearly two hours. My trumpet and its case have never been so meticulously prodded over and they even ran fingers through my long hair. Knud's oud's electric pickup roused much suspicion. They couldn't understand why we would want to go to Israel to study Arabic music. We felt we were being gently roughed up for consorting with the enemy. 

How it was: new relationships

Through the skill and networks of artist-tour operator Kristel Elayyan, Dutch wife of Tariq, perhaps the greatest aspect of the tour were the new friendships we made. Fares, Shafiq, Tarek who runs the Dar Al Musika where we jammed, Khadr Riham and Zaid, we hope to deepen what we've started as we co-create the new show. Katie was appreciated as a radiant presence said Kristel, Michael made everyone laugh, hit it off with fellow clown Riham and wrote all down in his note book, Marianna's workshop went down a storm and she was a magnetic stage presence herself, Knud impressed with his skill on oud, knowledge of local tunes and his dogged quest for the perfect oud. Fares loved Simon's music therapy workshop. Hakim Sabbeh festival director  was relieved and pleased with our reception in Nablus. Vivien and Hassan we will correspond with and Kristel is coming to stay in Bristol for some of the shows!

How did Longing Belonging and Balfour go down?

One of the main reasons for going was to tour the historical show explaining the Balfour declaration and its consequences to Palestinian audiences as we had to UK audiences, partly as a small way to take British responsibility for the terrible outcome for Palestinians, whilst affirming the positive sentiments of so many Jews escaping the Nazis. In Beit Sahour the show was well received though the character of The Land was crtiqued by some for being neutral when it should have stood for justice for Palestinians in the absence of any other advocate. The reception in Haifa was more muted as the audience was smaller. Someone said that singing in Yiddish in Club Kabareet had never been done before and was revolutionary. In Nablus the show went down very well. The President of Birzet University, Professor Saed Abu Hilej said "Thank you for the human dimension, the spiritual communication of the conflict, for having open hearts and minds. We hope this show will create real discussion beyond rhetoric." Another said "You have managed to convey the whole history of Palestine in an hour". Another is keen to bring the show to Barcelona. 

The outcome: creating a new show all about the land

As I write Michael has transcribed Vivien Sansour's stories about a near-lost variety of wheat personified as the 'handsome bown one' Abu Samara, Marianna is gearing up to sing, Zaid is composing, I've got stuck into my Redfield allotment feeling the way ahead with hands stinging from the earth's touch, Mark is finalising the LBB album,  a friend in York is launching national publicity. We've barely paused and it's all hands to the harvest of this extremely fecund trip. And there's only an hour left for crowdfunding!

Stay in touch

Please keep in touch through [email protected] Future donations will still be welcome-email  for details of our account. Please come to one of our gigs in Bristol June 8th Taunton June 9th Leeds June 15th York June 16th or reading June 17th.  A fuller report is available by scrolling down my fb time line, with several short videos, and seeing the Chai For All fb page. E.g (pic: looking south from Old Battir). THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR SUPPORTING US.

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