Friday, July 18, 2014

Abraham Salman-Taksim Bayat Mawzoun

 Amidst all the headlines I almost missed the news item earlier this week regarding Abraham Salman's death at the age of 83. I had no idea who he was and after listening to a few of his songs I was heartbroken not only because such a talented musician passed away but also because it's a shame that he hasn't gained wider recognition, especially among the younger generations. Born in Baghdad, Salman lost his sight at the age of two due to Trachoma. He began to study music at the age of 5 and at the age of 11 he was charmed by the magic of the qanun instrument. His rare talent was discovered when he joined the Royal Iraqi Radio Orchestra. His music gained respect and high acclaim throughout the Arab world, and he accompanied top Arab singers. In 1950 he immigrated to Israel and became a leading member of the Israel Radio Arabic Orchestra, which was composed of immigrants from Iraq and Egypt, until 1988.
    The Israel Radio Arabic Orchestra played music as part of Kol Israel in Arabic broadcasts, intended for the Arab world and Arabs living in Israel. In an interview between author Eli Amir and Menashe Somech, a veteran broadcaster of the station, Somech recalls how the station made sure to present Israel in a positive light, at a time when Arab countries were calling it an "imagined country". The station emphasized the Jewish people's historical right for a country, which was supported by the international community. They also emphasized that Israel wants peace with its neighbors and essentially refuted the lies and false accusations towards the country made by Arab leaders. Somech notes that the Arab listener heard a very high level of Arabic and this was deeply appreciated. In addition, he never heard words that hurt his religious feelings. He was surprised to hear the enemy speaking to him with respect, without insulting or degrading him-even when there were discussions on sensitive and provocative issues. Unfortunately, the station's nature took a swift turn in 1993. The hasbara department closed, under the CEO's claim that due to the signing of the Oslo peace accords, there will be no more need for hasbara. In the same year the Orchestra disbanded, following the retirement of its musical manager Zuzu Musa. Somech explains that the developments that followed the disappearance of the hasbara department and the station's new nature were serious faults which basically abandoned the Arab public, leaving it exposed to malicious propaganda by opponents of peace and those who deny Israel's existence.
It's quite tragic when you think about it. The hasbara department was closed down because people were so certain that there would be actual peace. Instead the peace process collapsed and made way for extremism  influencing the moderate listener who just wanted to hear quality radio. In the last 10 days I felt that my news feed was in a constant state of shouting-many were shouting their own opinion and had trouble listening to what others were saying. But I also witnessed many, many intelligent debates between friends of friends who come from different countries, have different political views and also different values but share a thirst for real communication and are interested not only in sharing what they have to say but also listening with an open mind to others. I really hope that now that we have entered a new (and in my opinion inevitable) stage of this operation this tolerance will continue and will not be washed away by extremism.

To end things in a light note, here's the mythological Kaveret performing "The Left-Handed Octopus" with Abraham Salman and the Israeli Radio Arab Orchestra, a song that appears in "Pugi in Pita", the band's second album.

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