Lullabies From The Axis Of Evil
"On January 29, 2002, U.S. President George W. Bush gave his famous "State of the' Union Address" to the American people wherein he launched the term "The Axis of. Evil". In this speech, he pointed out Iran, Iraq, North Korea "and their allies", as being;.
..the enemies of the U.S. and the free, democratic world.
This and other speeches, held by Bush and other leaders of the greatest power on the planet, made it clear that the "war on terrorism" following the events of Sept. 11. '2001.
needed to identify nations -not only terrorist-cells -as the enemy,
Without going too far in analysing the reasons behind this new way of fighting an old problem, it is easy to become worried about the fatal results the new doctrine may-create.The stigma that has been attached to the countries pointed out as members of "The Axis of Evil" is just one side of it. The building of enemy-lines and walls, in minds and on the ground between peoples, is another. The fact that it misleads us and covers the real problems in the world is a third.
Lullabies lead us to the deepest and most fundamental way of communication between
human beings. It is where all sharing of ideas and feelings starts. Between mother and child, between father and child. It is a universal culture. And it is amazing to see how many aesthetic similarities, musically and lyrically there are in lullabies from country
to country all over the world. The text-issues are often the same, so are the musical structures. Differences in scales, language, metaphors and religion cannot cover the fact that in the lullabies, the cultures of the earth meet each other. Or rather: from this common starting-point they grow into diversity.
This knowledge made me want to record lullabies from the countries that the U.S.-lead western world now has put on the other side of its enemy-lines. I wanted to record women's voices. It does not mean that I think the act of singing lullabies is something reserved for females. After having raised four children, I am an experienced lullaby-singer myself. It only means that the male voices are far too dominant in the world today, speaking the words of power and warfare. And especially in the oriental world the women are pushed aside. Their voices are hardly heard.
I went to Palestine first. This is where the enemy-lines between east and west, the mistrust and lack of understanding is most striking and obvious. This is also where the international community has faced its most tragic disability of creating peace, in spite of having had the issue on the agenda for decades, and in spite of carrying a big portion of the responsibility for the situation being as it is. The area of The Holy Land, where three major religions in earlier days were able to live in peace for centuries is the area where the double standards of the western world work as a constant injection of fuel to growing extreme fundamentalism in the Muslim world.
JAWAHER SHOFANI. My friend since the early nineties, Suhail Khoury who is the director of the Palestinian Conservatory of Music, drove me in his tiny blue Peugeot from Jerusalem to a small town in upper Galilee, close to the border of Lebanon. Suhail knew that this is where Palestine's most beloved and demanded singer of traditional Arabic folk music lives: Jawaher Shofani.
She is a strong grandmother in her early seventies. People call for her to sing when there is a wedding, a funeral or when a newborn baby is going to be baptized. During the most difficult times in the refugee-camp of Jenin and in Bethlehem she made a lament based on a lullaby, with her own improvised lyrics, which she had sung in publicseveral times. I recorded the song on December 16, 2002. (Track 13)
RIM BANNA. Suhail had more plans for me. On our way back to Jerusalem this dark December night, he manoeuvred his car up the hilly roads to the Arabic dominated town of Nazareth. Here I met Rim Banna for the first time. She is a professional artist and a young mother of three children, of whom two were newborn twins. I told o her about my plans and put up my microphone-stand with two Bruel & Kisr microphones and started my DAT recorder. From the first seconds of her a cappella performance of Ya Lei Ma Atwalak, I was brought to tears without understanding a single word of the song. The very first take is the one that we use on the CD. (Track4). Afterwards she also performed several other songs on tape, among those the beautiful Nami Yd La'aubi, her own composition. (Track 11)
To go to Baghdad in December 2002, in the looming shadow of a threatening war, was not an easy task. Getting a Visa, finding air tickets and getting in contact with singers were all quite demanding challenges. My solution was Lars Sigurd Sunnana, at the time a Middle East-correspondent for the Norwegian Broadcasting Company NRK, who was based in Amman. He gave me the recipe, and the most important component appeared to be Mr Hisham Sharaf. This man was a key figure in the Iraqi Ministry of Culture and is still the leader of the Baghdad Symphony Orchestra. With some desperately needed spare-parts for the orchestra in my suitcase and an official invitation from Mr Sharaf, I landed at Saddam International Airport on a humanitarian flight between Amman and Baghdad, organized by the Royal Jordanian Air. This was on the 17th of December.
HALLA BASSAM. Hisham Sharaf met me at the airport and drove me to his house where Halla Bassam waited together with the oud-player Ahmed Sleem. The two of them form a folk-music group. Halla was Hisham's former pupil, and tonight his "delivery" for the lullaby-project. She is an educated musician and singer, around 30 years old. Not married, no children. She presented a number of songs for me. I recorded Iraq's most famous lullaby "Dilelol" (Track 2) and "Peace song" written during the Iran/Iraq war in the '80s. (Track 6) A group of smiling and joking friends of Hisham's from the music scene in Baghdad served as the audience. Imagining what these individuals had gone through over the last 20 years - and what was facing them - made me a humble listener.
AMEL KTHYER. HIsham also introduced me to Amel Kthyer, one of the celebrities of Iraqi vocal folk music, somewhere between 50 and 60 years old. I met her in ' the building of the Ministry of Culture on December 19, and in one of the offices there I made a recording of several songs, among them Amel's intense version of "Dilelol", '.with the sound of the restless city of Baghdad quite present in the background. Both Amel's and Hallo's versions of "Dilelol" is being used on the CD. (Track 2).
Being in Cuba the first week of February for vacation, and exploring some of the tragic results of the U.S. embargo on the island, I decided to include this Caribbean nation in the project.
In the colourful and vibrant city of Santiago in the southeast, I found Mr. Ismael Laborde, a man I once had met in Norway, and whom I had promised to pay a visit. He is a church-leader who works with creating new church music in the Caribbean styles. He listened polite to my praising of the generosity and joyfulness of the Cuban people. When I had finished, he thanked me, and said he disliked destroying my enthu
siasm, but he had to tell me that the truth is slightly less romantic. The poverty and limitations faced by every family make most of the family-life a bitter fight for existence where all potential conflict has to be put under the carpet as a pure strategy of survival. What worries him is the long-term psychological impact this has on the people.
MAJRTHA LORENZO. I asked Ismael if he knew a woman who could sing a traditional Cuban lullaby. He introduced me to Martha Lorenzo and her companions, musicians Rolando Silveira Hiro, ]ulio Carmentas Nunes, and Gjiberto. Marques Diaz-Poez. Ismael even helped me organize a studio. Martha is a teacher, mother and housewife in her forties. She composes and performs music in the church. The song "Aruru" is the "national Cuban lullaby". (Track 7). I recorded it on the 5th of February.
In late February 2003 I went to Kabul, "the city where God comes only to weep". I travelled with a Red Cross flight from Peshawar over the mountains where U.S. soldiers still were searching for Osama Bin Laden.
To get in contact with female singers in a country where the Taliban recently had banned music and put up severe punishments for women singing in public was not an easy task, even if the ban now was lifted, and pupils gradually had been encouraged to sing in schools. There is no professional music-scene in Afghanistan, and any attempt from a western guy who wanted to get in touch with women was met with mistrust.
FANZYA AND RAZA KHAN ALI The Norwegian Church Aid, who runs women projects in and around Kabul, had worked some time to help me find singers. Their plan was to invite me to one of the meetings in a women's group, with Beate and some other female workers from the NCA present during the session. Fanzya and Razya are sisters, both probably in their late twenties or early thirties with no musical education. They brought Fanzya's baby to the meeting this afternoon. The baby lay in a cradle and was rocked to sleep while I made the recording of five songs, among them "Mazar". (Track 1 ). If God wept at that moment, It would have been for joy. It was February 26.
KUILSOOM SYED GHULAM. later the same evening I was introduced to Kulsoom. She is a 30 years old local employee at the NCA office in Kabul and speaks English. I asked her about the traditions in Afghanistan, and if the women sang lullabies for their babies during the Taliban period, even if it was banned. She told me most of them did, and with her tender and frail voice she sang "Lalolalo", one of the songs she had learned from her mother. I recorded it in the residence of Mr. Geir Valle, the head of NCA's work in Afghanistan. (Track 3).
The restrictions the priest-governed state of Iran has forced upon women also include that they are not allowed to sing in public. They may be allowed to do so if a man sings the lead vocal, but never as the main performer, unless all the listeners are women.
It was therefore with a good deal of uncertainty of what result I would be able to bring home that I passed all controls on Tehran airport and looked for Davood Jafarimaram. Being a friend of Javid, an Iranian musician living in Norway, he had promised to try to help me find some women who were willing to break the rules. For a moment I thought about how easy it would have been if I had decided to make a record with men singing the lullabies.
PARI ZANGANEH. On March 1 Jafarimaram drove me through a city that must have some of the worst traffic congestion in the world. The beautiful house of Pari Zanganeh, a former big star in the later years of the kingdom of the Shah of Iran, lies in the hills under snow-covered mountains. The famous diva had pictures from her tours around Europe and the US hanging on her walls. Several years ago she had been
in a car accident that caused her to go blind. Due to the strict regulations for perform
ing women, and her high profile in the Iranian society, she needed one day of thinking before she decided to do the recording. She picked "Gohlelale" (Track 12), a lullaby that is attached to her fame because of previous recordings of the song. Before singing it a cappella to my microphones, she warmed up her rich and beautiful voice, while playing piano.
MAHSAAND MARJAN VAHDAT. Mahsa Vahdat was already mentioned by some people from one of the Norwegian enterprises working in Iran, and we had had some mail correspondence in the weeks before my travel.
She and her sister Marjan met me in the Laleh Hotel lobby, where we shared a cup of tea, planning the recording. They are both ambitious, highly educated musicians. Mahsa (30) is married, Marjan (27) is not. They had no scruples about singing. They have no official access to an audience in Iran, but they tour quite a lot in Europe. I was invited to Mahsa's home the next day. Whereas Pari Zanganeh preferred to wear a scarf when I videotaped her, the two sisters did not care about it. They would hardly dream of unveiling their heads while walking in the city. but at home they felt totally free. Mahsa also plays setar. I recorded "Lalalala gohle laleh " (Track 10) and "Sad sol" (Track 1) among some other songs, and I was totally amazed by the musicality and the virtuosity of both artists. This was on the 2nd of March.
As the "war on terror" proceeded with the attack on Iraq during the spring 2003, it became guite clear which states might be the next targets for the ambitious US plans of changing regimes using its new doctrine of precipitous attacks. It was also when I
decided to go to Syria. Mr Suhnano, the journalist who had helped me into Iraq introduced me to one of his Syrian friends, Mr. George Baghdadi. George is also a journalist, working for the UPI. He met me in the Lobby of my hotel on the day of my arrival to Damascus, the 20th of May. I still had a headache after an exhausting taxi-trip from Amman, with the crossing of the Syrian/Jordan border as the stressful climax. George told me over a cup of tea that he was sure Syria would be the next target. Being a Christian he is afraid of an attempt to force "democracy" on a people, now governed by a president from one of the other minorities, and where the majority is analphabetic Shiite Muslims. "It can only lead to the majority's dictatorship over the minorities", he said. "Democracy is something you have to build gradually, with a campaign to educate the population as the mot important tool".
MAYADA KIIAISLY BAGHDADI. "The first woman I want you to meet happens to be my wife," George said with a smile while we drove through the crowded streets of Damascus. It was in the evening on the same day as I arrived to the oldest current capital of the world. I was a bit surprised, but I could not do anything but trust the guy that the lady could sing me a lullaby or two. And sitting in the bedroom of the family's house, hearing the beautiful songs Mayada presented with a newborn baby In her arms, I was fully satisfied, noting that her voice had the soul of a real mother and the ability to deliver authentic and touching renditions. Mayada and George have three sons. Mayada is W years old. I recorded a number of songs that night, of which' ."Luna, luna" was picked for the album. (Track 5)
VIVA KIUISIY CHACHATl. "The next woman I want you to meet happens :
to be the sister of my wife", George said with a laugh the next day. I laughed too, and I knew I would not be disappointed. Viva Killisly Chachati is a little older than her sister (43). She has two children, and she is the owner of two chocolate-shops: One in Dubai, and one in Damascus. But her dream has always been to become a singer. And there is no doubt that she is talented. She performed a number of songs in a small room in the most silent part of her flat. "Nami" was the one we used on the record. (Track 9)
The most difficult country to enter among those mentioned in Bush's famous speech Is North Korea. This would take so much work and diplomacy that I decided to trust the task of recording a North Korean lullaby to Mr. Rune Hersvik. He has been there-many times, and in the winter 2003 he had new plans to go there. Mr. Hersvik is the Secretary General of the human rights organisation Worldview Rights. We have worked together in many projects supporting Nobel Peace Prize Laureates, and in August 1999 we shared the joy of being present when the first group of North Koreans met their relatives in Seoul for the first time in nearly 50 years.
SUN JU LEE. Rune returned with two wonderful lullabies, performed by Sun Ju Lee. Shes a 35 years old mother of two children, working as a liberalist in an institute of culture established in the name of the famous composer Un Isang, who spent a lifetime working with reconciliation of the two Koreas. We decided to use "Stars are rising" In the project. (Track 8).
Between the journeys I had periods at home with editing, putting together the best version of each song, and then I delivered a bunch of lullabies from my last expedition to guitarist-arranger-composer-artist Knut Reiersrud. Our common ambition was to create a musical landscape around every lullaby, and I left it to him to choose the songs he wanted to work with, and to compose a comparative melody - possible to sing for a western voice - to be attached to each of the originals. It was amazing to hear how he was able to find the rhythmic element in each of the a cappella sung lullabies and let it appear as though the singers "conduct" a band they never heard. Knut led the work with the band in the studio, and together we worked out a final structure,
sometimes in cooperation with the western artists.
Erik Hillestad, Producer