Love is in the song

Conductor André de Quadros teams up with Lina Makhoul at this month’s Zimriya Festival.

Lina Makhoul will join forces with the Common Ground Voices in Acre (photo credit: Courtesy)
Lina Makhoul will join forces with the Common Ground Voices in Acre
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Music, at least in Western terms, is generally about arriving at some mutually acceptable and beneficial harmonious state of being. While fusing chords and tones is not strictly an integral part of Arabic music, there will be plenty of creative musical confluences at this year’s Zimriya Festival which takes place in Acre from August 18-21.
The forthcoming edition of the eight-year-old event, which is produced by the Harp and Zamir Society, goes by the name of Shiluvim, or Interweaving, and the rich four-day program features all kinds of intriguing synergies, including concerts with Jewish and Arab choirs. There are a bunch of big names in there, too, such as veteran globe-trotting guitarist-vocalist David Broza, who will team up with the Galilee Chamber Orchestra; internationally acclaimed songstresses Achinoam Nini and Mira Awad who represented Israel at the 2009 Eurovision Song Contest; and stellar pop singer Dikla who will perform with the Voices of Peace Choir conducted by probably our best known interpreter of Arabic music, oud player and violinist Yair Dallal.
The Jewish-Arab confluence theme also provides the underpinning for the grand finale of the four-day program, which will take place August 21 and will marry the high energy output of 26 year old US-born, Acre-bred Christian Arab dance-pop performer Lina Makhoul with the deftly crafted stratified vocal output of the Common Ground Voices (CGV) ensemble conducted by artistic director André de Quadros.
CGV is an international choir project initiated by the Sweden-based Eric Ericson International Choral Center in 2016. The choir’s credo notes that it “aims to generate a meaningful collaboration through music, to explore and create music of shared human values and aspirations, to contribute to community music as an exercise of nonviolence, and to utilize music as a springboard for a meaningful discussion about social and political change within the group as well as with the society in general.”
That lofty and welcome line of the 24-voice Jewish-Arab group thought will, hopefully, come across at Zimriya’s varied agenda of concerts that will be held in the history-laden ambience of the Citadel Yard and Crusader Halls of ancient Acre. De Quadros says the show will present something for a wide cross-section of music lovers. “It will be a mixture of international music, Jewish music and Arabic music.”
Over the years, the 66-year-old Indian-born American conductor, ethnomusicologist and educator has engaged in cross-cultural experimental repertoire with influences of Arab, Indian, Latin American and Indonesian music. He presents cross-cultural material across the globe and, among his many professional berths, serves as artistic director of Boston University’s prestigious Tanglewood Institute, and of the Aswatuna – Arab Choral Festival in Petra, Jordan.
DE QUADROS says he looks for harmony, through music, on all sorts of levels with CGV and his numerous other projects. “In the case of Jewish songs and Arabic songs we try to find ways to combine them. For example, we did this fusion of ‘Yerushalayim Shel Zahav’ (‘Jerusalem of Gold’) and ‘Zahkrat al Madaen’ (‘Flower of the Cities’).” The latter, a paean to Jerusalem, is most famously performed by now 83-year-old iconic Christian Lebanese vocalist Fairuz. “We create connections between these two songs,” de Quadros continues.
The conductor is no stranger to these shores, and says he is looking forward to returning to a part of the world he views as special. “One of the striking things about Israel is that it brings together a huge and diverse components of the Jewish Diaspora. Very often people who live outside Israel don’t sufficiently understand how diverse the Jewish Diaspora is.” During the course of his forays here de Quadros appears to have obtained a grasp of the local demographics. “There are people from all over the world who are Jewish [in Israel] and also people who are Jewish with different religious affiliations. And of course there are Arab Israelis and Palestinians, Christians and Muslims. There are Druze, people who are 1948 Arabs and there are the Jerusalemites, and you have the Arabs who live in the West Bank and, of course, the Arabs who live in Gaza. So it’s very complicated, complex and diverse.”
Naturally, multicultural societies present benefits and challenges alike, which de Quadros feels can produce unexpected and exciting hybrids. He is more than happy to observe and to feed off the multilayered offerings. “I am a collaborator and I don’t tell people what to do. So When I work with Jewish Israelis we build on Jewish music of different kinds. And it’s the same with Arabic music. There is that wonderful aspect of Arabic music, which is so diverse. I look for opportunities to fuse these musics together, looking for commonalities between Jewish music and Arab music.”
De Quadros has plied his craft around the world for many years and has encountered fellow professionals and others from numerous cultural backdrops. He also feeds off a varied personal musical substratum from his early formative years, which has helped him maintain open horizons in his work. “I listened to all kinds of music – Indian music of different kinds, popular [Western] music, Western classical music, Indian classical music, Indian recent music, Indian local musics. Of course this has informed by consciousness and growth because my views and tastes in music are different to a lot of other people.”
The works of Bach, Beethoven Mozart, et al. have been central to de Quadros’s cultural awareness and professional mind-set since the beginning. “I was introduced to Western classical music as a child. I played the violin. My mother was very interested in Western classical music and she played the piano.” That provided the springboard for de Quadros’s musical trajectories, which have multiplied and spread over time as he has taken his work to a multitude of locations and surroundings, including schools, prisons, psychiatric units and conflict areas across the globe. “I think I have gone past the music of my childhood into seeing myself as a kind of a diverse and eclectic musical citizen,” he declares.
THAT EXPANSIVE spectrum is also fueled by the local musical nuances that pervaded de Quadros’s infant ears. “You have Indian music in all kinds of different ways. You have Indian music from the street, Indian music from villages, from churches, temples, chanting, from films. There are all kinds of ways to think of Indian music, which is hard to imagine.”
Many musicians from different disciplines over the years have, in my conversations with them, railed against compartmentalizing different styles of their craft. Some jazz musicians, for example, do not like to think in terms of, say, swing or be-bop or avant-garde. Instead, they talk about music per se. De Quadros takes a different line. “There is no such as ‘just music,’” he states. “Everything is context-dependent. Every music has a genre, a context, a period, a style, a culture. So you have to approach every music differently.”
The “context” is also a personal matter. De Quadros notes that he approaches Jewish music, for instance, as an outsider. “If, for example, you are a West African drummer, you approach West African drumming in a different way to the way I approach West African drumming, as someone who is a foreigner to that culture.” De Quadros should know. “My work has taken me, as a choral musician, as a musician, probably to more settings in more countries than anyone I know. 
One of the greatest rewards for members of singing ensembles, he feels, comes from the simple fact that people sing together and therefore display some degree of empathy to one another. “A choir situation is not generally where people might listen to each other. They might listen to each other for the person of blending so to speak, but they don’t want to listen to each other for the purpose of understanding what it means to have another human being there, their personal expression, their sorrows, their joys.” De Quadros would like his choristers too get more from their vocal efforts than just a pleasing sonically harmonic end-product. “That is the cornerstone of my work – to create spaces where people can be themselves, can express themselves.”
In addition to the August 21 concert with the CGV troupe, de Quadros will present a number of master classes which he hopes will provide participants with more than just a musical boost. There are individual and communal gains to be had too. “In my master classes, as in all my music, I try to convey opportunities for people to understand themselves, to feel confident, to experience deep senses of what it means to be human, to find consolation and inspiration, but also to build community and to create personal meaning.”
De Quadros says that in his long years of musical endeavor, he has seen how people “have been transformed. I am never surprised by what happens, because I have seen so much of it, but I always love it.”
Some festival events are free. For tickets and more information: *9066 or (03) 604-1808