International musicians join forces with Unicef for Gaza benefit concert in Mechelen

Musicians from Belgium and abroad have joined with Unicef to raise money for Palestinian children as the humanitarian crisis continues in Gaza. Mechelen's cultural centre will host For Gaza: A Concert for War Children on 22 April, mayor Bart Somers announced at a press conference on Tuesday morning.

International musicians for one cause

"Through our concert, we aspire to amplify our message of solidarity with the people of Gaza and raise funds to aid the victims through our music," says Hisham Khoury, a Palestinian violinist who will play in the performance. He will be joined by several musicians also from Palestine, Israel, Egypt, Lebanon, France and Belgium, including violinist and violist Michael Barenboim, the concertmaster of the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra (WEDO).

Barenboim has been a member of the WEDO for 25 years and its concertmaster since 2003. The orchestra, founded by famed conductor Daniel Barenboim and Edward Said, was established to bring young musicians from Israel, Palestine and other Middle Eastern countries together to engage in transcultural dialogue through music.

With this sentiment close to his heart, Michael Barenboim hopes the Gaza benefit concert will continue to alert the public to what is happening, especially to the region’s youngest and most vulnerable.

“By far the most heartbreaking thing to me is the plight of the children,” he says. “The number of deaths is astronomical, and many of the ones who survive are orphans. Some are suffering horrible injuries or amputations without anaesthetic, and some have already starved to death. This is not a natural disaster, this is entirely man-made.”

“Art is inherently political"

In the wake of this humanitarian emergency, Barenboim views his role as a musician as a responsibility, “Art is inherently political. We cannot pretend the world around us doesn’t exist and that we can just play our music as if nothing is happening," he says.

"We have a responsibility. Not every concert can be a charity concert, and some events are purely about the music, but when we can do something, however small, it is our responsibility to do it.”

The programme for Monday’s concert will feature a mix of Eastern and Western classical music, with a world premiere by Belgian composer Jasper Charlet. His piece, called qifā nabki (Let us stop and weep), uses text by a pre-Islamic Arabic poet who weeps when he sees the ravaged ruins where his home once was.

“My musical interpretation focuses on the emptiness left after the destruction and the melancholy of the memories,” Charlet says. “While it's often somewhat dissonant, full of pain and grief, I opted to write something touching and emotional as a counterweight to the ongoing conflict.”

The other Belgian musicians performing include 2018 Queen Elisabeth Competition voice laureate Charlotte Wajnberg and pianist Aäron Wajnberg, who will perform Charlet’s new piece. Aäron Wajnberg spoke of his experience navigating the conflict as both a musician and a Belgian-Israeli with family members who were killed and two cousins taken hostage on 7 October by Hamas.

"We cannot have justice for one. Justice is equality for everyone"

“I am horrified by what happened on 7 October and condemn that and therefore I condemn what is happening now in Gaza,” he says. “Along with so many other Jews and Israelis, I am deeply shocked with what is currently happening in Gaza and I feel the need to stand in solidarity with all those who are victims of this injustice. I am doing that by playing in this concert and being part of this organisation.”

He advocates as well for the hostages still captive and reiterates his position on the conflict: “We cannot have justice for one. Justice is equality for everyone.”

Global pressure

Unicef’s most recent reports indicate that at least 13,000 children have been killed in Gaza since October, with 1.7 million people displaced. The organisation is calling for an immediate ceasefire, humanitarian access to the Gaza Strip, the unconditional release and safety of all abducted children, protection for civilian infrastructure and shelters and to evacuate children and their families in urgent need of medical care.

While Unicef’s appeals have not been met, it continues to put pressure on international governments. Meanwhile, this group of musicians hopes to aid on a smaller level. Violinist Khoury sees the concert as an opportunity to reach out to those suffering and have a dialogue with those who can potentially help.

"In these challenging times, it is easy to lose sight of our creative purpose amid all the turmoil and human suffering," he says. "Despite these obstacles, we stand driven by a collective desire to advocate for solidarity, peace and equality. As musicians, we recognise the power inherent in our medium and we embrace our responsibility to convey this message through our music."


#FlandersNewsService | © Photo AFP

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