above photo: mural on a house in Lisbon, Portugal —Rami
Pebbles from the Road ; A note on practice
The audiences and organizers on this tour have really shown that the world is small with one huge heart. People come to our shows to listen, they dance. Some have come up after the show and expressed surprise at really connecting to music they assumed would seem totally foreign. But why? Music is a form that all humanity shares.
Moving through Europe and Middle East this summer has also brought me reflections on a condition which seems to vex the soul of the world. Migration brings people together, but can also give rise to a reactionary notion that difference entails dilution or a loss. On the one hand there is a desire for variation, and on the other a resistance to what is often expressed as a loss of a cultural purity…even though it could easily be argued that has never existed anywhere.
The world IS small. Everything is connected, and its not just through the virtual powers of the interwebs that this congress is happening; this is live, people. I have seen that Europe is brown, black, beige and pink all over. I have heard how Arabic and Turkish are now lingua franca on the streets of Paris, Milan, Amsterdam, and Målmo. I’ve tasted the best baguette in Paris (winner 2008) made in the very mixed 18th arrondissement by Mr Anis Bouabsa, French baker of Tunisian origin.
What is culture, but practice, people doing things in a certain way. While I can observe that the idea of culture is rooted in specifics, the experience of immigrants within a generation shows that the word means nothing regarding human capacity. Humans given options are capable of a range of actions, and of change.
No, proximity and familiarity do not always foster a healthy relationship with difference, especially depending on the circumstances. Some move by choice, and others by necessity. Without exception they come seeking a better life, some to escape certain death. We saw a tent city of migrants last week on the streets of Paris that has seen no acknowledgement or assistance from any authorities. These are the hard cases. There is no easy solution to these situations; how can a country like Lebanon accept 1.5 million Syrian refugees, a third of its own population, without some concern for the logistics of feeding and sheltering everyone? I personally believe that if we continue to produce weapons to fuel conflicts then we are directly responsible for the welfare of those displaced, but that’s for another note.
Many brown people I met were born in Europe. . and like me, learned their parents’ languages as second or third tongues. Even birthright and fluency are no passport for these Euro born natives, as they are easily marked by physical difference. Easy targets. Just like in America. Just like everywhere.
The usual forms of resistance to difference come in all guises; embodied in individuals, systems, and occasionally entire states. We sometimes see their heads in the news —your Geert Wilders, Anders Brievik, Pamela Gellert, Robert McCulloch — but the day to day punishment is meted out in systemic scrutiny by authorities, lack of access to resources and services, and in more banal exchanges and slurs at the cafe or on the bus.
This condition is not unique to Europe and America, it’s also embodied in conservative movements in the mideast that in their most depressing form have Egypt back under the veil and most terrifying, half of Syria uprooted and seeking refuge on the streets of Istanbul, Beirut, Cairo. Change and fear drives these purifications, purges, battles, genocides.
Growing pains I hope. To me there is an amazing positive side to the migration of people. The exchange that we are seeing is inevitable, irreversible, happens first on a personal level, and will eventually spread to those structures which are still muddled with the imaginative stylings of a nationalism that cannot tolerate difference. This is growth, not loss.
The human condition has always been movement and this exchange means everything. The world is in every city now, and this will only increase as people move and mingle. The way we do things is never fixed over any period of time, and its not accessible displayed in a museum; it is lived and practiced.
You cannot lose culture for it is never fixed, just as you cannot trap culture in a museum. Culture is practiced, never static. Its people doing what they do in the way they do it. So its impossible to lose culture unless everyone stops doing things. Sure you can look at a vase in a museum, but that’s not just it. The understanding really takes face to face encounters. Like music, these people from around the world now living together, are coming to realize there is not one way to do things, and embracing difference in humanity. Everyday, couples meet and are have babies that can no longer be denied on the basis of blood. These babies have the power to cross borders and cultural codes and redefine the myths of nationality on both sides. Sometimes its simply a smile, or a shared moment on the street that will break these imagined borders.
I have always felt that humans worldwide want the same things; mainly to be able to provide for their families and not to suffer from overbearing or corrupt domestic authority or fear an enemy they imagine wants to travel across the world to destroy their way of life.
So what I see at these festivals and concert venues gives me hope that through movement, through music; we can ease the transition, and inspire practice that is both specific and evolving. Thanks to those of you who are listening to music, and who are creating it, and those who are dancing through imagined walls.