Jewish, Christian, Muslim musicians use music as bridge

“Our name says it all – we succeeded in being a bridge between different cultures," violinist Shaked says.

Bridge Project members Shaked (right) Ceyhan, Bussuti (L)370 (photo credit: Courtesy of PR )
Bridge Project members Shaked (right) Ceyhan, Bussuti (L)370
(photo credit: Courtesy of PR )
Put an Israeli Jew, an Australian Christian and a Turkish Muslim together in a recording studio (or more accurately alone next to their own computers with file-sharing capabilities), and it may sound something like Three Waves Under the Bridge, the group effort of Ittai Shaked, Andy Bussuttil and Umit Ceyhan.
The bridge of a musical composition often connects disparate sections or ideas resulting in a cohesive whole. But the international trio’s Bridge Project takes that concept one step further by integrating musicians from diverse backgrounds resulting in a musical blend spiced by Middle Eastern instrumentation, Turkish rhythms, some Balkan beats and even a touch of klezmer.
According to violinist Shaked, the project’s lynchpin, what started out as an informal exercise with his fellow musicians does more than cross a chasm, it eliminates it entirely.
“We just wanted to show that you can bridge gaps, and that music is stronger than anything else,” the life-long musician said last week from his Tel Aviv office at Waves, a successful Grammy Award-winning startup that develops audio mixing software for the digital age for sound engineers and producers. Shaked’s role at the company as a quality assurance coordinator played a pivotal role in the genesis of The Bridge Project.
“Part of my job is to manage a large forum of about 100 musicians, producers and sound engineers from around the world who help us beta test the products before they’re released to the market,” he said.
About two years ago, when the band he was playing in broke up, Shaked posted a message to the forum asking if anyone wanted to collaborate to make some music, even long distance by sending music files back and forth. Both Bussuttil and Ceyhan, working as testers for Waves, answered the call.
However, Bussuttil, the owner of a recording studio in the Maltese Archipelago and a specialist in the folk music of the Middle East, the Balkans and Asia Minor, recalled the origins of the group somewhat differently.
“Ittai posted on the forum that his band had fallen apart and he was sad about it, and I responded, ‘do you want to start another band?’ said Bussuttil, who arrived in Israel last week for the Bridge Project’s live debut in a series of show this month throughout the country. “I went into the forum and wrote, ‘come on, Ittai needs a band – who’s in?’ Umit answered, and we had a trio.”
The three multi-instrumentalists began sending each other musical ideas and passages, adding their own parts and passing them on. While the possibilities of technological incompatibility or malfunctions was there, the trio minimized the likelihood of mishaps occurring.
“We set some technological rules that we would all work on the same audio host, use the same editing software and sound processing system, so that when we send files to each other and play them on our own computers, they would sound the same to all of us,” said Shaked.
“The process was pretty easy, even though we’re talking about big files. You can send them overnight and in the morning the others can open and listen to it, then record their parts.”
AS IMPORTANT as the technological compatibility was the musical interaction between the three musicians, which also proved to be seamless during the more than a year of digital file sharing.
“The chemistry between us was amazing – we found out we shared and loved the same kind of music, more or less, with different spices,” said Shaked. “And all three of us play instruments that combine together very nicely. At some point, I realized that what we’re doing here is making an album.”
Shaked took on the role of coordinating the project, with regular input from his two virtual mates.
“We had discussions about once a week on Skype, where we would talk about particular songs and what was needed in terms of parts and instrumentation, and we eventually got a general consensus,” said Shaked.
“It was actually easier than being in a band that’s recording all together. When you’re with someone in the same room for a long time, it can get into conflicts. The fact that we were away from each other actually helped.”
It certainly didn’t hurt, as the Three Waves Under the Bridge, mixed by Shaked and mastered by Bussuttil, is a reflective world music mosaic brimming with musical ideas, and featuring a genre-hopping range of instruments – North African percussion like bongos and darbukas, strings ranging from violin, viola and cello to clarinet and sax, and traditional Turkish instruments like the duduk, kopuz and saz. One track, “Agladikca,” even features vocals in Hebrew and Turkish by Tel Aviv-based blues/jazz singer Oshrat Fahima.
For the trio, the music they created is only one of the accomplishments of The Bridge Project – the other being the coexistence element of musicians from three different religions and locations coming together in a “bridge” of cultures.
“Our efforts were an attempt to unify people rather than divide them,” said Bussuttil, “And we hoped to demonstrate that people from different backgrounds can create more than conflict, we can create things of beauty as well.”
The album has been adopted by The Daniel Pearl Foundation as being exemplary of the principles they’re pursuing and it will be promoted on their website, according to Bussuttil, who has often done benefit work for the organization. In addition, some of the proceeds from the album sales will go to the foundation, named after the slain American journalist.
Last week, he and Shaked finally met each other face to face (they liked each other) and since then, have been busy practicing with three local musicians ahead of the Bridge Project’s debut on May 14 at the Tmuna Theater in Tel Aviv. They were hopeful that Ceyhan, who lives in Toulouse, France and teaches sonic and cinematic arts at the University of Toulouse, would be able to arrive following the resolution of a spate of visa problems.
Other shows on the mini-tour, supported by the Foreign Ministry and the Australian Embassy in Israel, include The Jame Club in Acre on May 17, The Jazz Club in Mitzpe Ramon on May 18, and Hemdat Yamin in the Galilee on May 19.
“We’re practicing and we’re almost ready,” said Shaked, taking time to reflect on the outcome of the innocent message he posted over a year ago on the Waves forum.
“Our name says it all – we succeeded in being a bridge between different cultures.”