Music as an instrument for peace

"I grew up in a time when every Arab was your enemy, and here I found myself directing beautifully with Iranian musicians, a Syrian violin player, a Lebanese singer... it was an amazing experience."

Misha Segal (photo credit: Courtesy)
Misha Segal
(photo credit: Courtesy)
LOS ANGELES – Internationally acclaimed, multi-award-winning Israeli composer Misha Segal knows music is instrumental to peace.
He grew up in Haifa in the 1940s, where war was like a shadow, always right behind you, ready to spread its darkness across the land. Rising above danger and adversity was music that filled the airwaves and made the streets come alive. Friendships and work partnerships between Israelis and Arabs were extremely unlikely, but there was an abundance of Arab radio stations in Israel. Only music could permeate this fierce cultural divide.
Segal came from a musical family of diverse backgrounds – his Russian father played the piano and violin, and loved classical and jazz, and his Hungarian-Austrian mother listened to Johann Strauss and American musical theater. Segal’s first love was jazz, but he was always captivated by the idea of mixing musical genres and styles.
He studied music, film and philosophy at Tel Aviv University and apprenticed under Dieter Schönbach in Germany. Segal also studied composition and conducting at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London, and later attended the Berklee College of Music in Boston and set up shop in the US.
His resumé reads like a who’s who of contemporary music. The Israel Philharmonic and the Israel Chamber Ensemble have performed Segal’s work, and top Israeli artists such as Arik Einstein and Chava Alberstein have recorded his songs. He composed for every theater in Israel, wrote TV and movie scores, performed as a jazz pianist, and the list goes on. In Hollywood, Segal composed music for more than 130 feature films, including the haunting and renowned Phantom of the Opera, the popular children’s movie The New Adventures of Pippi Longstocking and the cult classic Berry Gordy’s – The Last Dragon.
He is a musical chameleon and extraordinarily gifted composer, conductor, producer, arranger, songwriter and pianist. Segal has won an Emmy award and nomination, an Israeli ACUM award and Oscar nomination, a Black Reel Award nomination, and worked with such legendary artists as Smokey Robinson, Randy Crawford and Luther Vandross.
The Los Angeles-based Segal says he is inspired by accidental beauty. His music takes unexpected turns down roads untraveled, past “do not enter” signs, to places that can only be imagined. You can hear the unique influence he has had on music in Israel. Although Segal has achieved so much, a monumental dream of his that is the culmination of all of his work and experiences has only just begun.
IN 2009, Segal received a fortuitous phone call from Muslim American filmmaker Qasim Basir, asking if he would compose the music for his movie Mooz-Lum. Qasim had just seen the evocative Ophir Award-nominated film Segal scored titled For My Father, which is about a suicide bomber who goes to a market in Tel Aviv, and winds up befriending Israelis he meets when his device fails to go off.
Mooz-Lum, starring Danny Glover, shows the tumultuous experiences of a Muslim college student in the wake of the 9/11 terror attacks.
Segal explains, “It was kind of strange because it was a Muslim subject, and here I was from Israel. I asked Qasim if he really thought I was the right guy for this, and he said ‘yeah’ and I loved that.”
The score went on to win a Black Reel nomination.
After its release, Segal started writing music for his next album with some of the same musicians he had worked with on Mooz-Lum.
“I grew up in a time when every Arab was your enemy, and here I found myself directing beautifully with Iranian musicians, a Syrian violin player, a Lebanese singer… it was an amazing experience. I said to myself, this is a much bigger concept than just another album,” he said.
The project turned into The Forbidden Band, Segal’s pioneering vision for peace and unity. He is the sole composer and pianist of the band, which is comprised of exceptional musicians from warring countries who shouldn’t come together, but do. Most of the band members are based in Los Angeles, but are Israeli, Iranian, Armenian, Argentinean, Greek, Palestinian, Canadian, Egyptian, Lebanese, Pakistani, Cuban and Syrian. Different religious and political ideologies are inconsequential; the transcendence of music makes boundaries disappear. Segal describes the first time they all met.
“We prepared a long table with every kind of Middle Eastern food you’ve ever seen at the Hans Zimmer Studio in LA. It was amazing; it was a very powerful moment, everyone realizing we are here to do music. And the power of music is what melted all the nervousness and uptightness at the beginning, it all melted away when we started playing – you can feel the chemistry,” he said.
The Forbidden Band debuted at Disney Imagineering Studios, where it received standing ovations. With its Middle Eastern instrumentation and Western rhythms, it’s easy to hear a lot of Segal’s influences, but the music is its own genre. Once the album is completed, they will tour the world. Segal explains that The Forbidden Band is “not a ‘peace band.’ We are here to make music, there is no other agenda, and that’s why I believe this particular band is so powerful… we’re not preaching anything, there’s no politics involved… through playing together, we discovered that music is superior to anything else.” Music is the unspoken, universal language that speaks for itself and breaks down all borders.
The Forbidden Band can be found at