Culture  Art with a cause

Benefit harnesses power of music to raise money for medical aid in Gaza

Many Montrealers have been very vocal in their support for Gaza amidst the recent conflict in the Middle East. There have been demonstrations and letters of solidarity – including one published by The Daily. Last Thursday, Montrealers gathered at La Sala Rossa to raise money for medical aid in Gaza through a more atypical method: Music for Gaza, a benefit show of music, art, poetry, and more.

It can be difficult to organize benefit shows for a cause that is a whole continent away – how is it possible to treat a situation that is physically distant with respect and understanding, without sensationalizing? Antoine Bustros, organizer of the event, gave few answers when interviewed, preferring to let the show to speak for itself.

The night opened with a powerful speech, citing statistics about the thousands injured and killed in the current assault, and specifying Aide Médicale pour la Palestine as the primary charity to which the event is contributing.

Following the statement of purpose was a slew of diverse performances, both in terms of music and background. Isabelle Metwalli and Enzo De Rosa began the show with a duet of emotive opera singing and piano playing. Metwalli sung “Ave Maria” in a soft voice, allowing the song to resonate but not overwhelm; toward the end of the piece, the pianist improvised with complementary chords. Niko Beki, a Brazilian and Québecois jazz singer, contrasted with an upbeat bossa nova, encouraging the audience to dance along. Later, santur and kamancheh players harmonized in a beautifully melancholic piece. Contessa Gitana closed the night with both a strong vocal and violin performance of Latin music, supported by guitar, bass, and drums.

The musical artists themselves had little to say about the event, other than that they were there to perform. What gave the evening its depth was Bustros’ efforts to include messages from those in Gaza. While Western media gives a rather superficial and redundant view of this war, Bustros attempted to provide an account of the conflict that focused on lived experiences by getting in touch with Gaza residents through Facebook. Their stories were incorporated into the event, with letters from residents read to the crowd throughout the night. Mohammed Akila, a musician in Gaza, also sent his music to be played at the event. His compositions were paired with the lyrics of Mahmoud Darwich, a Palestinian resistance poet who wrote about the anguish of dispossession and exile.

Other artists, interspersed with the musical performances, also presented poetry and prose related to the conflict. Projected onto a large screen was a poem by Khaled Juma, in which the speaker of the poem pleads for the children of Gaza, who used to steal from him and vandalize his property, to come back. Gisèle Ndong then read her own poetry with passion, asserting that nothing justifies the taking of a life. She put herself in the shoes of Palestinian women, writing about the blood-tainted dust, mutilated Palestinian women, overfilled hospitals, and an enduring hope despite it all. Rana Bose read the letter of a Palestinian woman who shares her name and who is mourning the loss of her eight-year-old daughter. In the letter, the woman finds herself constantly anxious and insecure, seeking the end of the “nightmare of [her] life” (translated from French).

While the suggested donation for the night was $20 per person, the event raised over $4,300. Although perhaps not the most organized event Sala Rossa has ever seen (the evening began an hour late), Music for Gaza was a poignant evening that bridged the physical distance of the conflict with lived experiences. This was no white-saviour get-together; instead, the event relied heavily on contact between the organizers and residents of Gaza, as well as on the use of music and poetry to facilitate an almost transcendent connection between here and there. Music for Gaza proved that art provides a mode of understanding that cannot be reproduced in mainstream media. A man of few words, Bustros said it best when asked about the role of art in the benefit: “Art and music don’t necessarily raise awareness,” he said, “but they bring people together.”