A harmonious coexistence

The Rana Arab-Jewish women’s choir is putting politics aside to promote peace through song

THE MEMBERS of Rana, the Jaffa-based Arab-Jewish women’s choir. (photo credit: NOA BEN SHALOM)
THE MEMBERS of Rana, the Jaffa-based Arab-Jewish women’s choir.
(photo credit: NOA BEN SHALOM)
Interfaith and coexistence work comes in many forms in Israel – with the Arab-Jewish women’s choir Rana, it sings.
The Jaffa-based choir became independent in 2016 with Mika Danny, former Shirana choir founder and conductor, at the helm, along with Idan Toledano, the former artistic director. The choir was previously based at the Jaffa Arab-Jewish Community Center. It has been performing throughout Israel and worldwide since 2008.
On September 6 at 9 p.m., the Rana Choir will perform in Jaffa with musical guests Achinoam Nini and Miriam Toukan. Danny, who in addition to being the choir’s founder is its conductor and musical director, sat down with The Jerusalem Post to discuss music as the great equalizer, the positive effects of singing in a choir, and interfaith musical repertoire.
What is your musical background?
I’m a musician who specializes in vocal work. I’ve been involved in different kinds of political activities for many years. I moved to Jaffa and felt that knowing Arab music and creating relationships between people was an opportunity for me to do something meaningful here in Jaffa. I joined together Arab and Jewish women who love singing and created the choir. I came up with the idea to start working at the community center here in Jaffa, which we did beginning in 2008. In January 2016, we left the community center and together with a colleague of mine, we started working as an independent choir. We changed our name to Rana and started doing everything needed for the choir to survive. Here we are.
How many choir members are there?
We have 20 women, Jewish, Muslim and Christian. They’re all from Jaffa, with ages ranging from 30-something to 70-something.
They all have different backgrounds.
It’s a big variety of people.
Do you typically perform in the Jaffa area?
We perform all over the country and even abroad. We just came back two months ago from a tour in France. We perform wherever we are invited; festivals and different events.
Sometimes it will be just a few songs and sometimes a full performance. With the September 6 event, it is a full concert in Jaffa.
Can you tell me more about the upcoming concert?
Most of the musical repertoire is folk songs from different cultures of the region: Arabic, Hebrew, Yemenite, Ladino, Persian, Moroccan and Greek. We even have songs in Yiddish, but we won’t be singing them at this particular concert. We are highlighting songs that deal with sentiments which every human being can identify with. We’re very excited to host singers Achinoam Nini and Miriam Toukan. We all share the same agenda: bringing Jews and Arabs together through music in order to create a better life for everybody here. They’re going to sing a few songs. We’ll also have five musicians accompanying us.
How do you think that music in particular can cross divides and unite people?
When you sing in a choir, the basic rule is that you have to listen very carefully to the people standing on your right and left.
You have to synchronize with them both in the harmony, melody and rhythm. That’s a very good starting point for dialogue. There has been a lot of research done recently about the influence of singing in a choir on the body and soul. It has poetic value for me.
When people sing together in a choir, at a certain point the rhythm of their heartbeats synchronize. Another thing is that when we perform for an audience, we always get very strong reactions of people coming and saying that we’re giving them hope. We also try to reach people who are not already convinced.
They say that they didn’t think it was possible until they heard us. We always feel that we give people food for thought.
We probably won’t bring peace to the Middle East, but we are convinced that every time we perform in front of people, we plant a seed in their hearts.
If someone comes away from a performance with second thoughts about something, that’s good enough. There are lots of different political opinions among the women in the choir; we don’t all vote for the same party. Yet, we all agree that we have to live together here and that we want to. We’re all aware of how our time spent together has enriched each and every one of us. We’ve learned so much about each other. We’ve gone through a process of learning new things about ourselves and what we call “the other.” We all come with some kind of prejudice and the best way to get rid of it is by doing something together and really getting to know each other.
When you do something you really love together, that’s the best way. Singing in particular is a very strong tool. I really believe this.
Are there more performances planned for the near future?
Yes, but nothing is definite yet. A concert like the one happening on September 6 is very unique, once a year; we don’t have any money. It’s important to mention that this choir is not supported by any public or private entity in Israel. We are on our own and it’s very hard. We’re at a critical point on our path now because we really need money to keep doing what we’re doing. We are all volunteers. We can’t afford to produce a concert, or rent a theater. This concert was made possible thanks to Iris Mor, who passed away very recently. She was the head of the cultural department of the Tel Aviv Municipality. Apart from being a unique and wonderful person, she chose to support us in this by way enabling us to produce this concert.
How many hours of rehearsal would you say this concert represents for the choir?
I can’t tell you! Some of the songs we already had in our repertoire and some we chose especially for this. We work regularly, learning new songs, but we have had more rehearsals and lots and lots of hours.
To purchase tickets to the upcoming concert, please visit: www.tzavta.co.il/EventPage.aspx- ?id=665.
You can also check out the Rana choir’s Youtube channel.