I was moved and surprised. I was not expecting this, well not yet. I was listening to a piece of music created by a small team of talented young musicians locked down in their homes because of the Coronavirus. I was listening to something special, an emotional piece that brought a tear to my eye, the tentative beginnings of a team of talented musicians making beautiful music together
“What About Us is a live stage musical that is being created and performed by talented young artists, including those whose countries have been affected by war and terror such as Israel, Palestine and Ireland”
That emotion brough me back to the first time I saw Les Misérables in London. I knew I was going to a special show though I was not expecting the musical to have such an impact on me that evening, and more than 30 later for it to continue to influence my life. I was lucky enough to see the original West End cast with the incredibly powerful Colm Wilkinson in the lead Jean Valjean role. That night I was not alone and as the final emotive scene revealed itself the tears and sniffles all through the theatre added to the moving climax, the audience and cast sharing a special moment. What a story, what a musical, what an inspiration
“What About Us is a Musical project that can positively impact society, promote peace over war and challenge societal issues such as global warming and climate change”
Shoshi Israeli is one of the creative driving forces behind What About Us. Artist, dance teacher and choreographer Shoshi is the founder of COBENA FLAMENCO. Her countless achievements as a performer and educator have earned her recognition both nationally and internationally. Originally from Jerusalem she now lives in Madrid. She has led several peace projects with groups of Israeli and Palestinian artists and feels strongly that people can work together in peace and harmony even when politicians do not or cannot.
“What About Us means more to me than a musical project. It is a manifesto about peace and a better future. It’s funny how we tend to concentrate on our differences while we have so much in common.” – Shoshi Israeli
Bringing the talent on Board
Shoshi is continuing to audition artists for the musical, something that is quite difficult during the lockdown. She spends her days in Zoom meetings trying to coordinate a huge creative artistic effort that unites artists from all sides in conflict zones and will ultimately help shape the musical.
To date she has assembled a group of over 30 Israeli and Palestinian musicians, singers and composers. The quality of their talent is an extremely high level, mostly professional, and each person has the potential to contribute to the development of a world class piece of music or song.
Dina Kitrossky is an Israeli pianist and composer. After graduating from the Jerusalem Academy of Music in composition, she went on to live and create on the line between Eastern and Western music, merging traditional folklore with classical music. Besides performing and recording her own music Dina also writes film scores.
“I’m very excited being part of this inspiring project, where I can create music with musicians from all over the world, making art with no boundaries.” – Dina Kitrossky
One of our Palestinian music composers Dr. Mohammad Moussa Khalaf studied musicology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He completed a master’s in music education and classical violin and was a member of the Hebrew University Orchestra. He has become one of the major Eastern and classical violinists in the Arab Palestinian society in recent years. He has a doctoral in Ethnomusicology from the Bar Ilan University in Tel-Aviv.
“What About Us is a beautiful and unique project. It gives the opportunity for musicians from all over the world, from various cultural backgrounds, to create music togethers. At this point in time we really need to reach each other through art. The creation of music between Israelis and Palestinians will bring peace among the individual artists, between our ethnic groups and between the two nations.” – Dr. Mohammad Moussa Khalaf
I was introduced to Shoshi by Enrico Molinaro, founder of Mediterranean Perspectives, an organization based in Italy that was set up twenty years ago in Jerusalem, where he lived and worked as a researcher for ten years. Enrico has developed different Israeli-Palestinian peace initiatives, including music for the local youth focusing on their identities, a source of inspiration for What About Us. He publishes blogs, his analyses of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on Ripplzoo, the not for profit platform that is supporting What About Us
Professional singer and songwriter Aaron Wilkinson who is leading the music creation project has brought in an Irish team playing both traditional and modern instruments, to collaborate with the Israeli and Palestinian musicians. Aaron is an award-winning Irish singer songwriter based in Toronto. A highly skilled music producer, Aaron has recorded over 12 albums spanning rock, alternative folk, experimental electronica and traditional Irish music.
“I try to get involved with projects that I feel are doing positive things in this world. Music has no religion. Music has no politics. Make music not war.” – Aaron Wilkinson
Irish musician Gary Lonergan played professionally with Humanzi and The Might Stef. He is also a composer and songwriter.
“The music that I have contributed to the What About Us project has so far been confrontational and temperamental with dark electronic tones. I hope that collaboration with the other artists will bring a new flavour to these tracks and the result will vary from subtle to expansive, ambient to aggressive and contemporary to futuristic. These tracks have been heavily influenced by the perpetual anger & noise that we find ourselves exposed to on a more and more frequent basis.” – Gary Lonergan
Each of the artists are looking at What About Us as an opportunity to express themselves, contribute ideas, challenge the status quo and show off their talent and ability to an International audience.
Facing down the challenges
With the current coronavirus epidemic crisis affecting the entire world each team member is working from the isolation of their own home. The workshops scheduled for Jerusalem in June are on hold until it is safe to travel, and the full team able to work together in a studio environment.
Aaron has set up each artist on Bandlab, an online music platform where you can create a piece of music and then others can add to it. There are teething problems which are being sorted. These include Bandlab not being ideally suited to so many people collaborating on one piece, communication between team members and a bunch of technical stuff.
Aaron is now placing the artists in individual “bands” each one comprising a songwriter, singer and 4/5 musicians. Each band will be commencing online workshops in the week ahead to create and evolve the music.
Despite these technical challenges we are already seeing some amazing piece of music under development covering multiple genres and styles. Core to the soul of What About Us is allowing the artists to explore different interpretations both individually and within a team.
Des Cullen, the Music Director, has been playing and composing music for over 30 years. He initially studied bass guitar and played with many bands. He went on to study piano with the royal Irish academy of Music and recently started a Masters on Music for digital media. He currently works out of a home studio.
“I am enjoying the diversity in cultures, personalities, instrumentation and influences. I am intrigued to hear the variety of collaboration’s but mostly to see how music can bring people together.
My father was from Ardoyne in Belfast and was the first TV correspondent to cover the troubles in Northern Ireland for RTE (The national TV station in Ireland). My Uncle was Deputy Leader of the Alliance party and later a member of the Northern Ireland Assembly. I grew up with the troubles at the forefront of our day. Not a newscycle was missed, my father met with all of the key individuals involved on both sides of the conflict, our house was raided, cars burned.
With the troubles mostly behind us and the Irish peace process continuing to evolve I am delighted to be a part of bringing people together and to help heal wounds through Music.”– Des Cullen
Progressing the Story
Another challenge is the Story itself which is being developed in parallel with the evolving music. We have a story starting point of 2 Acts, 14 scenes in each Act, and with several concepts evolving from earlier workshops. The challenge will be knitting positive social messaging with a world class musical and entertainment experience.
Of course, one of the core goals for What About Us is that the young originators and participants are contributing to the evolution of the story and the music. Online workshops on the story will commence shortly and once that process has been evolved sufficiently, it is expected that we will secure a professional story writer to evolve the work into a coherent and dramatic work. And at that point, as the story gets tighter, the music will also become more focused and fused with the story.
Securing funding for What About Us
Going forward a significant challenge will be sourcing the necessary funding to produce a musical of the highest international standard, and the corona crisis is not helpful. The current team are operating on a shoestring and providing their time without pay. There is considerable goodwill from everyone. All are passionate about the need to help bring more goodness and love to the world.
What About Us is also an important social initiative which will deliver significant societal benefits alongside creating awareness of really important issues such as climate change.
The approach being taken in the development of the story and the music is not out of a textbook. It is a riskier, untried and innovative approach that has the potential to develop into a significant musical and reach a global audience. Interestingly, the coronavirus crisis is providing fuel for the creative team who figure the current status quo needs challenging.
Why war when you can love?
Why fossil fuels when clean renewables can replace them?
Why are people dying of hunger and dirty water when there is so much wealth?
Why do so few have so much power, and so many nothing?
The next generation deserve more than is currently on offer. They need to be listened to. Their voice needs a bigger stage. When I was so moved by a piece of music created by musicians from Israel, Palestine and Ireland, working from the isolation of their bedrooms, I knew for sure that the next generation can achieve something very special for a world crying out for their help.
We need to listen to their cry – What About Us