Two Israeli bands -- one Jewish the other Arab -- touring Europe together
Bands hope their tour will show how music can unite people across political and religious divides
Other Arab-Israeli musical projects have highlighted power of music to foster peaceful relations
'The only conflict we have is who is going to pay the bill,' says singer Kobi Farhi
Two Israeli bands, one Jewish and one Arab, are joining together in “metal brotherhood” to spread a message of peace through rock ‘n roll.
Arab group Khalas (Arabic for “Enough”) and Jewish band Orphaned Land are heading out on an 18-day European tour that they hope will foster tolerance between the two sides in the Arab-Israeli conflict.
“We want to share the stage together, we want to show co-existence,” said Kobi Farhi, Orphaned Land’s vocalist.
The bands will also share a tour bus for three weeks. What more perfect example of co-existence, asks Farhi.
“We will snore at each other, we will do laundry together, we will make coffee for each other,” he said.
Among those on the tour bus will be Abed Hathout, Khalas’ guitarist and band manager. “If we can do this co-existence on a bus, why can’t we do it all over this country,” he said.
One in five Israelis is of Arab descent, according to Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics. Sometimes called Israeli-Arabs, many consider themselves Palestinians.
Apart from handful of cities that the government designates “mixed,” where a minority of Arabs lives alongside a majority of Jews, the two groups live in separate communities.
Farhi admits that music might not be able to solve the Arab-Israeli conflict, but he argues that “you can always show a way for people to take inspiration.”
The bands have already played two gigs together in Tel Aviv.
Hathout says that Khalas’ favorite place to perform is Ramallah in the West Bank but that the “good energy” at these two gigs was “amazing.”
This is not the first time music has been used to cross the divide between Israelis and Arabs.
In 1999, conductor Daniel Barenboim and the late Palestinian intellectual Edward Said founded The West-Eastern Divan Orchestra.
Based in the Spanish city of Seville, the orchestra is composed of an equal number of Israeli and Arab musicians, together with a group of Spanish musicians.
The orchestra has performed all over the world, working on the philosophy that music can break down barriers and encourage people to listen to each other.
Some Palestinians have criticized the orchestra for promoting “normalization,” which masks the realities of their situation. Last year an East Jerusalem concert was cancelled after complaints from Palestinians.
Farhi recounts a similar incident when Orphaned Land played with a Tunisian band on their last tour. The Tunisian band’s manager received emails asking them to boycott the tour.
“If you want to interpret (touring with an Israeli band) as legitimizing, that’s your interpretation … we simply have a message that we love each other and we want to live together.”
Khalas and Orphaned Land’s tour was sparked by Farhi and Hathout’s friendship.
“You might say (going on tour together) is a PR cliche or a gimmick… but it’s simply a translation of me and Abed’s brotherhood,” said Farhi.
The pair met almost a decade ago at a radio station and bonded over their mutual love of heavy metal with a Middle Eastern twist.
Both bands blend classic heavy metal elements with Arabic rhythms and instruments like violins and flutes. They call it Oriental Metal.
“We take the rock ‘n roll of the West, put it through our Middle Eastern filters, and throw it back,” said Hathout.
Orphaned Land’s lyrics are often political, observing the Middle East’s governments and religion. Khalas’ latest album features metal covers of ’80s Arab wedding songs.
“Khalas doesn’t deal with politics … it’s not because we are not connected to our people or we don’t care, but there are so many people talking about the occupation.
“I have the right to write about having fun and love and drinking beer.”
In spite of the complexities, Ben Brinner author of “Playing across a Divide: Israeli-Palestinian Musical Encounters” and a professor of music at University of California, Berkeley, says something very interesting can happen when musicians from both sides come together.
“They create different kinds of musical styles; it’s giving a vision of a rich kind of working together (that in) the best cases creates something new, something that they couldn’t create on their own, that can speak to the hearts of diverse audiences.”
For Farhi, it’s straightforward enough: “The only conflict we have is who is going to pay the bill.”