Erie Arts & Culture partnered with the Erie Downtown Partnership to produce two “Stay Home Jam Together” sessions live-streamed during the month of Ramadan. Ramadan is observed every year but follows a lunar calendar, so it is celebrated around 10 days earlier than the previous year. This year Ramadan started April 13 and ends on the evening of May 12. For 30 days Muslims fast from all food and water from sunrise to sundown. Ramadan is a time for reflection, giving to charity, and spending time with family. Erie has a sizeable Muslim community, many of them former refugees from Bosnia, Somalia, Iraq, and Syria.
The concerts were underwritten by a Building Bridges grant from the Doris Duke Foundation. The grant has funded programming to help Erie artists from Muslim cultures to share their stories and talents with the wider community. The first video features Mustafa Albalkhi on oud (an ancient lute-like instrument), Nibal Ab El Karim on vocals, and Belal Aldenah on doumbek, (a metal-bodied drum). Mustafa and Belal are from Syria and Nibal is from Palestine. They specialize in traditional and mid-20th century love songs from the Arab speaking world with driving rhythms and intricate melodies. Nibal says, “Music always brings people together. It brings families together. It can bring a broken heart back together.” Mustafa had a career as a music teacher in Syria but had to abandon his career and flee the civil war. He said, “Now I hope I can have a chance to be a professional musician again, and to live close to my oud.”
The other performance features Bosnian vocalist Mensura Berberovic who is an expert in traditional ballads known as Sevdalinka. Sevdalinkas express the pain of love and loss and the intense bonds of family. Mensura uses the songs to illustrate her life living through genocide, and settling in Erie.
The performances were filmed by the team at R. Frank Media with audio by Grise Audio Visual. The musicians were very pleased with the results. Mensura said, “The beautiful production makes me more confident and more welcome. I belong to this country now, to this community. It means a lot for people to know me and my story. We came as refugees, we didn’t choose to come. We were victims of terror, of genocide. Evil doesn’t have a religion. It can be anywhere. This concert can show people we need to fight hate by cleaning our own hearts. I fight hate with love. All my songs are about the power of love.”