An Amazing Cultural Fusion – East Meets West on the North Side
By C. Naseer Ahmad
Washington, DC: Khumariyaan – the intoxicators – which has reawakened the live music scene in Peshawar thrilled the audience at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington. Pakistani Ambassador Jalil Abbas Jilani and his wife were also there on September 16, 2014 to see an amazing cultural fusion where the East harmoniously met the West on the North Side of the Millennium Stage in the magnificent Kennedy Center.
"Music is the international language of peace,” said US Secretary of State John Kerry while welcoming young Afghan performers in February 2013. Such words and sentiments were also expressed by Eileen O'Connor, Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs, who welcomed Ambassador Jilani and his wife while enthusiastically introducing the performers to the audience.
“In our country and particularly in our region, playing music, or indeed anything that is art is a form of resistance, a resistance that may have paid for with their lives, yet Pushtoons love their music,” lead guitarist Sparlay Rawail was quoted in the hand-out distributed at the event. “By introducing Western and local instruments in one line-up, we hope to remove the stereotypes from our culture, and bring back a love for music, and indeed more importantly, a love for the musician,” he added.
“In our journey, we hope to entice musical ‘goose bumps’, and become a philosophical experience,” rubab player Farhan Bogra said. Through their stellar performance Rawail and his band members charmed the audience - which stretched far into the massive hall – and gave them more than goose bumps. Khumariyaan’s melodies made many in the audience jump with joy and it was a sight not seen often in the Millennium Stage.
Khumariyaan was followed by Ribab Fusion – a talented and popular Moroccan band of musicians. If Khumariyaan was the delicious appetizer then “Ribab Fusion” was an irresistible desert that the audience did not want to pass on. In fact, not only did the children run towards the stage and dance to the tune but also the grown-ups were mesmerized.
“We began Ribab Fusion in 2008 with the idea to explore the world, and share with the world what Amazigh music is,” said Foulane Bouhssine. “The Amazigh culture is very strong, elastic, charismatic and very potent,” Brahim El Mazned, the founding Artistic Director of Agadir’s famed Timitar Festival in Morocco, was quoted as saying. “Rooted and proud of their culture, this generation of artists understands the sounds and rhythms, the underlying impulses, and this knowledge fuels their creativity,” he said.
Perhaps, it was the underlying impulses and the love of their music that even a man in wheel chair became like a swirling dervish. And, the leaves on the terrace trees overlooking the Potomac River seemed to have caught the bug too. With the glowing sunlight of this delightful late summer evening, Khumariyaan and Ribab Fusion were the perfect combination to bring out the hidden Pushtoon and the Berber spirits in us.
“Lahore, Casablanca, and Agadir, Ho Chi Minh City, Peshawar, and Hanoi. Each has served as a global and cultural hub for centuries. As sons and daughters of these ancient crossroads, the artists touring the US as part of Center Stage in 2014 create work from within rich and storied cultures. Through music and movement, they engage the new and the historic and help shape the complex societies in which they live in,” says the cover of a sample CD with truly wonderful works of art.
This unique cultural exchange – Center Stage - is a public-private initiative of the US Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and produced by the New England Foundation for the Arts (NEFA) in cooperation of regional arts organizations and some private donors. General Management for Center Stage is provided by Lisa Booth Management Inc. which has been very effective in finding talented artists who can further the cause of cultural exchange. One of the gems discovered through this exchange is Arieb Azhar, based in Islamabad, who in addition to his Sufi music plays an instrumental role in identifying artists for Center Stage.
From the personal interactions at a reception at the District Commons restaurant with the artists of bands, the State Department officials and all the people who make Center Stage so enjoyable, one sees the East meet West through an amazing cultural fusion bringing hope for sanity to prevail in a turbulent world beset by violence. And, historians might note that the District Commons restaurant physically exists in a place which was once the emergency room of the George Washington University Hospital where the late President Ronald Reagan was brought in after being shot by a lunatic in 1981.