May 12, 2006
Global musicians promote peace with US tour
By Andrea Shalal-Esa
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Thirty young musicians from 18
countries including Iran, Mexico, Denmark and South Korea are
fanning out across the United States this month to perform in
the hope of teaching cross-cultural understanding.
of Jordanian pianist Zade Dirani, 26, who has performed for
Nelson Mandela, Queen Elizabeth, former U.S. President Bill
Clinton, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, and the Dalai Lama.
Backed by Jordan's Queen Noor, Boston's Berklee College of
Music and Seeds of Peace, the project aims to "bring world
cultures closer together," says Dirani, who recently won a
coveted U.S. "green card," or permanent residency permit, based
on his ability.
The group is truly opening doors. The conservative Islamic
Saudi Academy in a Virginia suburb of Washington is hosting one
of the group's 100 planned workshops, only the second time in
its 22-year history the school has ever held a musical
"Music is one of the most open doors through which we can
experience the beauty and humanity of other people's cultures,"
says Evan Gutierrez, 26, a Detroit percussionist who says the
project is helping him use his music to work for peace.
Dirani's first two CDs hit the Billboard charts in the New
Age category. His third, "Beautiful World," came out in early
May, and includes far more Arabic influences than his earlier
The recording blends beats and rhythms from Arab and
Western musical traditions in what Dirani calls "another
attempt to try to deconstruct barriers through music."
Dirani, who studied at Boston's Berklee College of Music,
has performed over 200 house concerts around the country since
the September 11, hijacking attacks, in part to challenge
stereotypes about his Arab and Muslim heritage.
This project aims even higher, Dirani told Reuters in an
interview, saying he hopes to bring the international and U.S.
musicians together one month a year for five years. This year,
the group will perform in Washington, Houston and Los Angeles.
"There are a lot of misconceptions about a lot of countries
around the world," he says, noting that Arabs and Muslims are
not the only people who suffer discrimination and prejudice.
During the tour, the musicians, all carefully selected for
their leadership skills as well as musical talent, will talk
with Americans in centers for the elderly, schools, churches
and synagogues about how to move toward peace, Dirani said.
"It's almost like a thinktank that combines public
diplomacy, leadership and music," he said, noting that each
applicant had to fill out a 10-page questionnaire developed by
a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Back in their home countries, they will initiate various
projects to continue the dialogue, Dirani said, noting that he
also views his own work as a "two-way street."
"When I go back to the (Middle East), I share stories of
the kindness and support I'm getting here," he said. "The hate
that people think is out there is really based on a lack of
This week, Dirani and two other musicians from the group --
a Christian and a Jew -- were to perform at the Islamic school
as well as another private school, the Rock Creek International
School, which teaches children Arabic beginning at age 3.
Then whole orchestra was scheduled to perform in Washington
with the Carpe Diem choir, which includes people of all ages
and different backgrounds also working for peace.
MAKING CULTURAL EXCHANGE 'COOL'
Busy Graham, who founded the choir in 2003, says the
collaboration with Dirani has proven tremendously fruitful.
"This is such a liberating experience, to be able to sing
in harmony and community with people from all of these
different backgrounds," she said. "Through learning this music,
we really learn about each other's pasts and culture."
Gutierrez says music is an easier way to experience the
beauty of another culture than through religion, language or
family structures, which can be difficult to understand.
"The greatest accomplishment is to give young people
positive associations with worlds that might seem very strange
to them," he told Reuters.
Dirani says he finds working with children particularly
rewarding, especially when they have had little interaction
with people from other countries.
"We are connecting with them through music. We make
cultural exchange cool. It's like traveling, exploring the
world," he said.