For 24 hours, musicians of several nationalities and faiths honored sacred traditions and celebrated new forms of expression in the first Jerusalem Sacred Music Festival.
The brainchild of three Israeli Jews, the festival draw upwards of 10,000 people from Sept. 6-7 and included performers from Iraq, Iran, Zimbabwe, Morocco, Brazil, Azerbaijan and Israel.
Performances took place in three venues, paying homage to sacred traditions while seeking new relevance, said artistic director Gil Ron Shama. Music included Persian Jewish Chants, Muslim Sufi melodies combined with different musical traditions and liturgies of the Holy Land, sacred Mbira music of the Shona tribe of Zimbabwe and Tibetan ceremonial music. There was also a multi-lingual choir singing Christian liturgical music from different time periods and traditions.
Producing such a festival was a “long and deep process,” he said as organizers wondered whether they had the right to do something called “sacred” in the complex faith environment of Jerusalem, a city important to Christianity, Judaism and Islam.
“We wanted this to be a small key for both the older generation and the younger generation to solve the riddle called Jerusalem,” said Ron Shama. “The old world of prayer is certainly sacred and the use of music in prayer is central to religions and we gave place to this form of prayer on the one hand but on the other hand the sacred can also be fun and sexy and could be used as a breath of fresh air.”
In addition to the concerts which represented Arabic, Persian, Hebrew, Aramaic, African and Asian traditions, there were “wandering” performances which took place outside the venues and included storytelling, conversations and visits to religious worship services not often seen by visitors. Such services included those of the Armenian, Ethiopian and Syrian Orthodox traditions as well as prayers of atonement Jews recite before the High Holidays which begin on Sept. 16.
It is especially important at this point in time when tensions are so high with Iran, to remember the important role Persian music has played in the development of music, Ron Shama noted.
“Deep, deep inside is a wish to see people of different faiths bring their traditions, their instruments and their holy singing together for peace. We created this utopian picture in a small way, even if it is an illusion for a moment of peace, happiness and freedom,” said Ron Shama.