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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Let's talk about Israeli - and Palestinian Arab - music

A disturbing story from TheJC:
Israel boycotters have declared a "victory" after organisers of an Israeli music conference assured them that the event would have no Israeli government funding.

Campaigners from British Committee for the Universities of Palestine (BRICUP), Jews for Boycotting Israeli Goods (J-BIG) and the Boycott Israel Network (BIN) threatened to picket "Arts Music of Israel" which is being organised by the Jewish Music Institute at SOAS next week.

Organisers turned down a grant from the British Israeli Arts Training Scheme, after deciding they did not want political connections with the conference. JMI director Geraldine Auerbach said no money had been received from the Israeli government, and a £1,500 grant from BI-ARTS had been turned down.

This week, BRICUP published the correspondence it had with Ms Auerbach, which said: "I confirm that there is no funding directly or indirectly from the Israeli government or institutions." BRICUP also claim Ms Auerbach told them that the event would no longer be promoted via the Israeli embassy.

A trustee of the Jewish Music Institute has expressed his anger and frustration that the organisation turned down Israeli funding for a conference under pressure from boycotters.

David Mencer, a former director of the Labour Friends of Israel, attacked the "appalling lack of judgment and moral character in [the JMI's] distancing itself from Israel."

He said the trustees had not been consulted by JMI director Geraldine Auerbach over the decision. Mr Mencer said he believed the organization had "submitted to blackmail and given the Israel boycotters and Israel haters an unnecessary victory.

"JMI have refused to accept a donation from the representatives of the democratically elected government of the State of Israel for an event about the music of Israel.

"We have made it even more difficult for other organisations trying hard to promote UK - Israel ties by setting this precedent.

"I am sure that I am not alone in wanting to distance myself from this decision. Perhaps most importantly of all, this decision will also have mortally damaged any future attempt to fundraise from the Jewish community, thus jeopardising the future of the organisation."
In this case, it is a big victory for the BDSers. They forced weak-willed British Jews to distance themselves from Israel, as if taking money from Israel would impugn an Israeli music conference.

But did this pacify the Israel-haters? Of course not!

Campaigners say they still plan to hand out leaflets outside the conference, claiming it would be "impossible" to hold a conference on Palestinian music.

Because of that statement, I did a little research into "Palestinian" music and came up with an unconsciously illuminating article, a book review of "Palestinian Arab Music: A Maqam Tradition in Practice".

For a musicology researcher, the book is a treasure trove. The appendices alone (about one-quarter of the large book) contain transcripts and classifications of 28 songs, representing the repertoire of the region, including musical notation, Arabic text, transliteration and translation. For fans of the mathematical analysis of maqam tetrachords, this is a must-read. Discussed genres include shruqi, zajal, mijana, ‘ataba, mu’anna, haddadi, dabke and mhorabe. The authors have beautifully catalogued rhythmic and modal organizations. Famous documented performers include Hikmat Shaheen (father of Arab-American composer Simon Shaheen), Muhammad Abd al-Qader and Yousef Majadeli. When available, the authors even added an update of where the artists had settled decades after the initial research was conducted.

So there does exist at least one, comprehensive, scholarly book on Palestinian Arab music that could certainly be the basis of a conference.

The Arab book reviewer mentions an interesting fact, as an aside:
The book’s stated objective is to document the vocal music of a specific, defined group – the Palestinian Arabs in Israel. Although a worthy dissertation topic, the research was conducted at a time when the target group was still the first generation and had not developed as a defined group or even considered themselves as such. They had lived under the Ottoman Empire and a brief British Mandate during which they traveled, traded and exchanged culture with their fellow Arabs in Greater Syria and Egypt. It was not until a few decades later that there was a group defined by political isolation from its brethren.
Notice the bolded parts. The Arab book reviewer is stating what is obvious to even the Arab world: there was no Palestinian people until recently, and they were defined by the "political isolation" from their "brethren." In other words, they are essentially an artificial construct that was created by the Arab world, not an inherently cohesive and historic group.

And, by the way, who wrote this definitive book on Palestinian Arab music theory?

Dalia Cohen and Ruth Katz, two researchers at Hebrew University.