Many singers and bands are expected to participate this year, affirming through music the city’s Arab identity in the face of relentless Israeli efforts to cleanse the city of its Arab history.
Jerusalem’s cultural identity is more closely connected to the details of daily life than the city’s religious significance. The whole of Palestine and Jerusalem in particular is locked in a constant struggle with Israel’s colonization efforts which seek to erase Palestinian identity and culture from the occupied land.
This year’s festival is scheduled to start in early November and last until December 1. The opening event will be held in Jerusalem before the festival moves on to Ramallah , Bethlehem, Nablus, Hebron, and, for the first time, Gaza.
Director of ESNCM and festival organizer Suhail Khoury tells Al-Akhbar the idea behind establishing the festival was to emphasize Jerusalem’s Arab heritage as well as to highlight the city’s long cultural history, particularly that of its musical tradition.
“Jerusalem is in need of initiatives that help to reinforce the identity of its Palestinian residents, and Arabic music is essential in such efforts,” he explains. “We are facing an occupation even in music. Whoever lives in Jerusalem can always hear Hebrew music blaring in the streets.”
The focus on tarab, a highly evocative style of music that emerged in the early 20th century, was inspired by the festival founders’ appreciation for the importance of this musical tradition.
The festival features both old and new tarab, reaching out to new Palestinian bands that draw on tarab and reinterpret it in their own music.
Unfortunately, this year’s festival will not feature some of the Arab musicians it has in the past, mainly due to complications posed by the Israeli occupation. Some Palestinian bands who reside abroad, such as the Khouri Trio, have been invited to perform.
They will share the stage with other Palestinian performers like Nai al-Barghouthi who will be making her first appearance as a singer after having participated previously as a musician with the conservatory band.
Several Palestinian bands from the 1948 occupied territories will also be taking part, including the Seraj Choir, Watar Ensemble, Dalal Abu Amneh, Ramsis Qassis, and Roseanne Khouri.
Student bands from the Edward Said conservatory, like Maqamat al-Quds, Turath from Ramallah, and the Bethlehem Ensemble will also be appearing.
All Jerusalem performances will be held at the Hakawati Theater before appearing in other Palestinian cities, including the Gaza Music School that is now part of the national conservatory.