Despite vast physical distances, language barriers and religious differences, the Genesis World Music Ensemble still put on a stellar performance for a packed house at the Kennedy Center on August 27.
With band members living in five different countries and several different time zones, the group of Muslim and Jewish musicians found it impractical to hold traditional practice sessions. Instead, the group relied on technology and creativity - singing into phones, trading e-mail messages and sound files, and translating between languages - to work together from April to August without ever meeting in person until two days before their concert.
“I can say that it has been quite challenging, but somehow we have all overcome the obstacles. It seems like people are interested in what we have to say, and that is a satisfying feeling,” Iranian-born composer, producer and guitarist Shahin Shahida said.
In addition to Shahida, the group includes American Jewish tenor Alberto Mizrahi, affectionately known as the “Jewish Pavarotti” renowned Moroccan oud virtuoso Haj Youness, who also serves as dean of the Casablanca Conservatory of Music Grammy Award-winning keyboard and harmonica player Howard Levy, an American a keyboard player, a percussionist and saxophonist from Morocco an Ethiopian bassist and a harmonium player from Afghanistan.
Wendy Sternberg, the founder and executive director of Genesis at the Crossroads, which created the Genesis World Music Ensemble, described one of the group's unique practice sessions.
“Haj Youness, Moroccan-Muslim, halfway around the world sings the score into the phone - albeit distorted by thousands of miles and the mere fact that he is an oud virtuoso, not a vocalist … he belts it out from the bottom of his soul."
Currently in its eighth year of operation, the Chicago-based nonprofit Genesis at the Crossroads uses the arts to bridge cultures in conflict around the world - including promoting and organizing events featuring Jewish, Arab and Persian artists.
“Our mission is to foster appreciation, awareness and the celebration of diversity while exploring the amazing cultures of these nations,” Sternberg said.
The entire video of the performance in Washington is available on the Kennedy Center Web site.