Though far removed from the occupied Palestinian territories, the Akha people of South East Asia have a saying about music that strikes a universal note; a village without music is not a village. Back in the 1930s and 1940s there was a Palestine Philharmonic but now it’s called the Israeli Symphony Orchestra, just one more example of the cultural occupation that Israel exerts on Palestinians. The conditions that Palestinians are forced to live under mean that, like the Philharmonic, there is no longer a Palestine. Nevertheless, the Palestinians voice and aspirations for statehood cannot be ignored, and neither too, can the flame of music be extinguished there. Remember Shakti’s concert at the Ramallah Cultural Palace in aid of and in solidarity with Al Mada, was a reminder of the power of music to inspire, to empower and to heal.
There was a wonderful symbiosis about the coming together of Palestinian organization Al Mada and John McLaughlin and Zakir Hussain’s legendary group, Remember Shakti. Formed in 2009 by Executive Director Reem Abdul Hadi and Artistic Director Odeh Turman, Al Mada is dedicated to improving the quality of people’s lives in the occupied Palestinian territories, not in the physical sense, but by lifting the human spirit through the medium of music and art as therapy. McLaughlin, perhaps not by design, has been doing something not too dissimilar for more than forty years, with music so powerful, and often so beautiful, that it is, in its own way, inspirational and transformative.