Sunday,17 February, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1398, (21 - 27 June 2018)
Sunday,17 February, 2019
Issue 1398, (21 - 27 June 2018)

Ahram Weekly

‘Getting to know you’

The Band’s Visit
The Band’s Visit

“Um Kolthoum and Omar Sharif / Came floating on the jasmine wind/

From the West, from the South / Honey in my ears/

Spice in my mouth/ Dark and thrilling/ Strange and sweet/

Cleopatra and the handsome thief/ And they floated on a jasmine wind/

Um Kolthoum and Omar Sharif”

Chances are you never heard those lyrics before, yet they are sung every night on Broadway in the smash hit musical, ‘The Band’s Visit’.

Winning a record 10 Tony Awards out of 11 nominations, The Band’s Visit will go down in history as one of the great musical classics, joining the likes of ‘The King and I’, ‘The Sound of Music’, ‘My Fair Lady’, ‘Hello Dolly’, ‘Phantom of the Opera’, etc.

Founded in 1947, the Tony Awards are yearly tributes to achievement in Broadway Theatre, equivalent to the Oscars in film. Named after one of the most successful women in the American Theatre, tireless actress, director, producer Antoinette Perry, (1888- 1946), affectionately known as Tony. The awards were established one year after her death and at the debut held at the Grand Ballroom of the Waldorf Astoria, there was little doubt that the awards were to be dubbed, ‘Tony’.

The musical that cleaned up at the Tony’s has sold-out audiences riveted by the winner of best musical score, best leading actress, best lead actor, Tony Shalhoub, best supporting actor, best adaptation, best orchestration, best lighting, best scene design, best sound design, revolves around an Egyptian military band, stranded in a remote village in the Israeli Desert.

With no way out till morning, the musicians develop a friendship with the residents of the town over the course of one night. They express love and nostalgia for the music, songs and culture of their enemies, (or neighbours) across the desert. What could be stranger than the momentous touching of two destinies, two extremes.

While man is able to forge friendships, love and peace — nations fail. Once we engage in dialogue, exchange ideas, play, eat, drink, sing and dance… our common humanity overcomes all odds.

If we view the map of Europe, we find it astounding that so many countries that have been at war with each other for hundreds of years are now best friends. Who could have conceived of the European Union after WWI and WWII — except Churchill.

The knowledge of each other breeds familiarity, friendship and love.

The famous incident known as the Christmas Truce illustrates our indisputable humanity.

It was over 100 years ago.  The year was 1914 and the Great War, or WWI was just a few months old.  It was Christmas Eve. The night was clear and serene. The moon had already risen, to witness a symbolic moment in history. The trenches of the warring parties were close, when a voice broke the silence, crying: “Merry Christmas”.  Thousands of British, Belgian and French soldiers put down their rifles and stepped out of their trenches. The other side did the same, and as if on cue, both groups burst into the traditional Christmas song: “Silent Night”. They were soon shaking hands, exchanging greetings, gifts, food, cigarettes, buttons and other souvenirs. They helped each other bury their dead, they played football, they laughed and cried together and for a moment there was peace.  

The war eventually claimed 15 million lives, but for one brief moment in history, humankind was declared a winner. This miracle, known as ‘Treve de Noel’ and “Weihnactsfrieden”, the Christmas Truce was the centre of radiation of our human instincts.

Politicians have benefitted from this face to face encounter between two adversaries.

Richard Nixon shocked the world when he decided to visit China in 1972 and meet with Mao Zedong. It was an important strategic and diplomatic overture that resulted in a human, harmonious relation, ending 25 years of non-communication between the US and the People’s Republic of China.

Ronald Reagan followed suit in 1985 and met with the leader of the USSR, Mikhail Gorbachev, in Geneva. The two leaders sized each other up and discovered the extent of concessions each was willing to make. A year later in Reykjavik the ‘Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty’ was signed between the US and the USSR. Just meeting and shaking hands took the chill out of the Cold War.

Trump and Kim Jung-un almost declared nuclear war a few months ago. One meeting created a window of opportunity for dialogue and reconciliation. At least for now, our world is safe.

Despite the current political climate we must navigate the challenges and promote understanding and peace.

Sports and culture are two soft powers that overcome differences and bring all peoples together in unity.

For thousands of years humans of all races have participated in sports. It is a language understood by all.  Bring a football to a field and kids who do not speak the same language, forge friendships and respect for one another through their shared love of the sport.

Music remains the most powerful tool in bringing people together and promoting cultural understanding. The melodious notes fall on everyone’s ears in the same way, stirring the same feelings, soothing the same hearts, American, Chinese or Korean;  Muslim, Christian or Jew.

It is the universal language with an appeal that transcends all cultural, national and religious differences.

Harnessing that musical power evokes the deepest emotions in man’s heart.

Music is capable of breaking the strongest barriers.

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