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World-renowned composer Naser Musa is inspired mostly by the Bible, Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish and Mahatma Gandhi. He speaks in a soft, hushed tone about the uprooting of his grandparents and parents from Ayn Karem, a Palestinian village bordering Jerusalem. His grandfather, an entrepreneur who developed a lucrative business in agriculture, lost his land and home to Israeli settlers in the spring of 1948. His father, heir to the land, also lost it.
Now, he dreams not only of peace for the conflicted region, but also justice. "You have to have justice before you have peace," he says. "And before you have either, you have to be heard."
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That theme runs deep in many of his songs, which, Musa says, are meant to give a voice to the plight of the Palestinians, a people who "have not had their rights given to them."
Musa recently collaborated with Canadian-based Persian band Niyaz on their latest album, Sumud, which translates to "steadfastness." "Rayaat al Sumud" is one of the highlights of the album, pulsing with synth percussion, trembling mandolin and Arabic lyrics about the Palestinians' right to freedom via peaceful resistance.
He will perform with another award-winning Israeli composer, Yuval Ron, on Sept. 8 at the Women's Center in Laguna Beach for a benefit event as part of an evening titled "Hawks and Doves In the Garden of Peace," hosted by the Levantine Cultural Center (LCC). The LCC is a nonprofit that puts on arts-and-education programs to promote cultural literacy on the Middle East/North Africa region. The two artists previously performed together in Beverly Hills last April for another center event.
Center director Jordan Elgrably says he organized the concert portion of the event to illustrate there are many Palestinians and Israelis who already envision a shared future, who refuse to see one another in terms of stereotypes. The coalescence of Ron and Musa onstage is a demonstration of that vision for Elgrably. Both composers met at the annual Middle Eastern Music and Dance Camp in Mendocino nearly 14 years ago. "Naser is a very, very gentle soul," Ron says. "I learned from him how to be gentle and kind."
That's where Ron says Musa also taught him how to play "khaliji," a style of Arabic music with origins in the Arab Gulf nations.
Ron was born and raised in Tel Aviv. On summer vacations, he visited Egypt's Sinai desert, back when it belonged to Israel in the mid-1970s. There, he met Bedouins who taught him to play the oud—a pear-shaped, short-necked, stringed instrument common in Arabic music. During trips to the Sinai desert, he sat around the fires, playing Arabic songs with the Bedouins.
"There were no police and no soldiers," Ron says. "Just music."
It's a stark contrast to the events of the Second Intifada. The event influenced many of Ron's songs, including "Zaman al Salaam," which means "A Time of Peace" in Arabic.
"I wanted to record this song to remind people . . . of the promise [of peace] given to them," he says. "And this promise was not implemented by the governments."
For Ron, the peace concert is a way of bringing together both sides of the political spectrum. For Musa, it's a little different.
"It's a first step to creating awareness, not [awareness that] Arabs and Jews love each other, because humans should love each naturally," he says. "It's that there are a lot of rights taken away from the Arabs that should be given to them so the Jews can live in peace as well."
This article appeared in print as "Can't We All Just Strum Along? The collaboration between two composers in Laguna Beach promotes a vision of peace in Palestine."