Goodwill oozes in Uzbekistan

An Israeli contingent joins the 10th annual music festival in Samarkand.

ISRAELI MUSICIANS (from left): Haim Itzhak, Rali Margalit, Ilana Eliya, Elad Kimchi and Idan Elmalem take part in the annual Sharq Taronalari music festival in Samarkand. (photo credit: VICTORIA MARTYNOV)
ISRAELI MUSICIANS (from left): Haim Itzhak, Rali Margalit, Ilana Eliya, Elad Kimchi and Idan Elmalem take part in the annual Sharq Taronalari music festival in Samarkand.
(photo credit: VICTORIA MARTYNOV)
Among the few Muslim countries that are friendly to Israel, Uzbekistan holds a special place, thanks to its historical connection with Jews of Bucharan and Ashkenazi origin.
That was more than evident when an Israeli delegation of musicians recently attended the 10th annual international folk music festival Sharq Taronalari in Samarkand.
Joining participants from 67 countries, the Israeli contingent at the five-day event consisted of Kurdish singer Ilana Eliya and the four-member Ensemble Aram (Haim Itzhak, Rali Margalit, Elad Kimchi and Idan Elmalem).
Sharq Taronalari, which means “melodies of the Orient,” is based on the concept that in ancient times, people used to meet on the Silk Road and demonstrate their arts and culture. The music festival fulfills an important mission to help preserve and further promote the traditional music of the East.
The stated objectives of the festival are “wide popularization, preservation and development of the best achievements of traditional music, education of the young generation in the spirit of continuing national traditions and expanding its international creative communication.”
In addition to concerts, the festival program includes a contest of performers of traditional music from different countries, as well as scientific and practical conferences with musicologists, composers and performers.
The event has expanded over time. The first festival, which took place in 1997, was attended by representatives of 31 countries. At the ninth festival, musicians from 53 nations took part. The contest segment is sometimes referred to as Eurovision of the East.
As the visiting musicians arrived at the train station, they quickly unpacked their instruments and joined the happening of singing and dancing. The local drummers beat their doiras (drums), while trumpeters blew into their long heavy horns – karnays and surnays. The festival hosts lined up with a myriad of signs indicating the participating countries.
Upon arrival at the festival hotel, the musicians changed into their national costumes, and a flurry of colors and patterns filled the lobby: Saudis in white, Japanese in yellow, Mongolians in orange, Pakistanis and Georgians in black – a dazzling rainbow of colors.
At this year’s opening ceremony, Uzbekistan President Islam Karimov,said, “The spirit and philosophy of Samarkand contribute to ever consolidating the ties of friendship among nations, developing the cultural dialogue and preserving the traditions of classical music.”
In Israel, while the festival is almost unknown, it provides Israelis with the unique opportunity to speak to those to whom we do not speak, such as our neighbors in the Middle East like Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Egypt and Iran. Eliya, an ethno-classic singer who sings traditional Kurdish songs, discovered the deep connection between the two cultures when she was invited to take part in the contest. Born in Jerusalem to Kurdish parents, she started her musical career at age 38 after the death of her father, who was a cantor.
“Like many Israelis of Oriental origin, I was afraid to sing traditional songs in public. Only the tragic event in my life gave me the courage,” she said.
Until that time, Eliya had occupied this niche in the Israeli arts by collecting melodies. When she was invited to Samarkand, she started looking for traditional Uzbek songs and was surprised to see that there was a great similarity between Israeli and Uzbek songs and singing styles.
“I realized that the reason for this was our common history. Our cultures are rooted in ancient Israel, and our ancestors walked along the same Silk Road,” she said.
Eliya’s premise was proven in the parks and squares of Samarkand. The concert by her group was met with great enthusiasm. When they performed in Sogdiana Park, the excited fans rushed to take photos together. Among the fans were not only adults but also children.
“Could you ask them to come again tomorrow?” an eight-year-old boy requested. “We loved the Israeli artists so much.”
For Israelis, Sharq Taronalari is a rare opportunity to commune with Egyptians, Pakistanis, Saudis and Iranians. The doors of the music rooms are open, and it`s easy to join the rehearsals. On the first evening of the festival, the Israeli musicians joined the Egyptian musicians from the Cairo Opera House, and they sang Arabic songs together all night long.
But perhaps the best friends of the Israeli delegation were Pakistani brothers Sharoon and Haroon Leo. They spent many hours together during the five days of the festival. The brothers were magnificent musicians and very warm individuals. On the last day, before bidding one another farewell, the Leo brothers made a lovely gesture: They took off their national black jackets and presented them to the Israeli musicians.
“It was a very strange feeling to sit and perform with them,” said Itzhak. “The sounds of Israeli music are mixed with theirs. If musicians ruled the world, we would have peace for a long time already. “ The writer was a guest of the festival.