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World Music Features

Web Exclusive: Miles Copeland

By Tad Hendrickson
Published November 4, 2008

Editor Tad Hendrickson chats with the creator of the eye-opening documentary, Dissonance And Harmony: Arabic Music Goes West.

Fans of PBS and world music hopefully caught Dissonance And Harmony: Arabic Music Goes West on Sunday November 2, a new 60-minute documentary that uses music to help forge ties between the Middle East and the West. Directed and produced by Jonathan Brandeis, the film follows Miles Copeland (best known for as the Police’s manager, Ark 21 records, and the presenter of the Bellydance Superstars) as he visits different Middle Eastern countries, meeting with musicians, singers and producers willing to discuss their feelings about the West, and how politics have shaped their music and careers. The film then follows several musicians who make the trek to Los Angeles (at Copeland’s invitation) to collaborate with Western musicians like producer/guitarist Nile Rodgers, Jack Blades of Night Ranger, RZA of the Wu-Tang Clan, Charlotte Caffey of The Go-Go’s, Gustavo Santaolalla, and two dozen Arabic artists. After three days of rehearsals and writing, the musicians then performed a concert at the legendary Roxy nightclub.


Produced by WETA in Washington, D.C., as part of the America At A Crossroads series, the film presents one of the most unique and powerful examples of how music crosses all boundaries. GR Editor Tad Hendrickson caught up with Miles Copeland on the eve of the broadcast to chat about the making of this landmark. What follows is a lengthy and passionate conversation that is as eye-opening as the film itself. - Tad Hendrickson



Tad Hendrickson: So, this project looks pretty amazing. We might as well just start off at the beginning…

Miles Copeland: Actually what happened was I got a call from the Pentagon. And it was the Tori Clarke, who is deputy secretary of defense. She was working on a project, basically, to win hearts and minds in the Arab world, and she called Hilary Rosen who was, at that time, the head of the RIAA. She asked her if there was anybody in the music business who could do anything about the Middle East—if there was any connection there—that could use entertainment to kind of create some good will over in that part of the world. Hilary and I had done some stuff together with the RIAA and she knew that I was involved in Arab music, and she said, “Well, the only person I know of who could be of help is Miles. He’s the only one doing anything with Arab music, so he’s your man.” So I get this phone call from the Pentagon, and I thought it was a joke initially. My secretary said, “It’s Donald Rumsfeld’s office!” and I was like, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, fuck off!” “No, it really is! It’s Deputy Secretary of Defense!” And, finally, she was serious, so I took the phone and, sure enough, it was Tori Clarke. She said, “Look, we’ve got these programs that we’ve been working on, and we would like you to vet them for us.”  I said, “Sure,” so they sent me this dossier of some of these ideas they had. They were