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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Heartbeat musicians transcend conflict

Published: February 28, 2013
Section: Arts, Etc., Featured, Top Stories

An hour and a half into Heartbeat’s Wednesday concert in Levin Ballroom, all nine Israeli and Palestinian musicians placed their instruments to resting position. With violins held to the side, drumsticks quieted and sound placed down, each member took front stage; sharing their stories to shed light on the experiences of youth caught in-between the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The members then proceeded to open the floor to the audience, where they were met with the question, “How is the government responding to your efforts?” A question to which Heartbeat’s violinist, Siwar Mansour answered, “Nothing, but we are doing what they think we can’t do.”

Indeed, founded in 2007 under a Fulbright-mtvU award, these talented musicians are doing something that their governments sometimes can’t seem to do: transcend conflict by coming together—and doing so through music. Since Heartbeat’s inception nearly five years ago, the organization has brought together more than 100 young Israeli and Palestinian musicians to use music as a way of enacting change toward a better future in the Middle East.

This is Heartbeat’s debut tour in the United States, traveling across much of the East Coast to bring an ensemble of Arab and Jewish musicians, ages 17-22, to perform at various venues, communities and universities. Brandeis marks the sixth spot on their tour and was brought to campus through Hillel. Jake Altholz ’15, as the Israel Programs Coordinator of Hillel’s student e-board, played a major part in bringing Heartbeat to the Brandeis campus.

“Heartbeat represents a group of people who are from different backgrounds showing unity
between the two, and is an opportunity to see both sides coming together,” said Altholz on the
importance of Heartbeat coming to Brandeis.

On the stage, the nine young Jewish and Arab artists truly did show Brandeis both sides coming together and expressing through music what words sometimes fail to do. The Heartbeat musicians played all original songs of which they wrote based off of their own personal narrative of living in the conflict. One such song, called “The Wall” spoke about the dividing wall in Israel. Despite being physically divided by the wall, the people on either side still share the same sunlight, music and air that made them similar. The song was powerful in the deeper message it conveyed of coming together through shared identity. The songs that the group performed were mostly in Arabic and incorporated some English. Nonetheless, band members introduced every song and gave a short description so that the message could be understood even if the language was not.

Stylistically, their performance blended together traditional melodies with modern beatbox and rap elements to produce a sound that was fresh and upbeat. Mohammed Kablawi was memorable as the group rapper and beatboxer in the way he was able to hum, slur and oscillate his lines to make them sound remarkably percussive. All the members were great in the ways they complemented each other musically. This was clear in that despite having such a mix of instruments—from violas, to the oud and guitar, both acoustic and electric—the members were able to create a sound that was well-balanced and colorful in timbre.

In their last two songs, the ensemble asked the audience to sing along, teaching the lyrics to them. Then, the audience was divided into two halves where one half was asked to clap out straight beats while the other a more syncopated rhythm. Although the two rhythms seemed different, they fell perfectly in time when clapped together to create something much more dynamic and musical. Similarly, Heartbeat reminds us that this idea can be translated to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict where two seemingly clashing forces can come together in perfect harmony.

From this, as Sarah Copel ’15 noted, the Heartbeat performance “shows the Brandeis community a creative way to promote peace by reaching people through a medium that everyone can understand: music. Brandeis was founded on being accepting and appreciative of everyone, and Heartbeat showed us how achievable and beautiful that can be.”