Monday, November 30, 2020

Resistance through music: Ramallah’s Al Kamanjati centre

By Maria Correia - July 30, 2018
Section: [Main News] [Features]
Tags: [culture] [resistance]

In the middle of Ramallah’s old city stands a peculiarly modern piece of architecture. The round arches of the building stand out from the array of old Palestinian homes and shops, but there is no outside indication of what the building is. The only clue to a passer-by is the faint music that booms from the courtyard, which mixes beautifully with the moving laughter of playing kids in the area.

The building is Al Kamanjati, a music centre and non-profit organisation, founded by a man called Ramzi Abu Radwan.
Abu Radwan’s story is well known; he grew up as a child in Al Amari refugee camp and discovered music at the age of 16. His talent in music won him a scholarship to learn to play viola in France, where he started the Al Kamanjati Association in 2002. He created the association to make music more accessible to other children from similar backgrounds. The association opened in Palestine in 2004.
His journey is encompassed in a framed photo in the music hall of the centre. On the background, there is a photo of him playing the viola in an orchestra as an adult; a smaller photo on the left corner shows a famous photo of him, years earlier, throwing a stone at Israeli soldiers as a child.
Speaking to an ex-student of the centre, Majd Qadi, it became clear how significant this centre has been and continues to be for Palestinian youths. Qadi is now a medicine student in Germany, but before that he was a student at Al Kamanjati between 2006-2013. He comes back to Ramallah every year and plays with the orchestra.
At the time of the interview, Qadi was waiting on an Israeli permit to join his band from Al Kamanjati to play a concert in Jerusalem. This was an apt demonstration of the cultural and creative dimension of the occupation.
”Of course if we want to travel abroad we would have issues getting visas, even here we would need to get permits. International guests also sometimes have difficulties coming here.”
Having issues travelling even within the West Bank as a Palestinian is no surprise and is nothing new. However, the obstacles to getting permits for travelling don’t seem to stop the musicians of Al Kamanjati.  Qadi told Palestine Monitor that Summer is particularly busy with concerts or music camps all over the West Bank. This summer is the 9th year the centre has a Beethoven Symphonyconcert. For Qadi, the yearly concerts with artists from all over the globe symbolises something absolutely beautiful.
“The obstacles we face act as motivation. For many of us, music has been this therapeutic way to cope with the political and social situation in Palestine. It’s our way to spread our message here and abroad.”
With an array of political and social limitations, Qadi felt that music becomes of increased importance: “I think music itself is a good statement.”
“Music can be a huge ’screw you’ to anybody who tries to make it difficult to you” - Majd Qadi.
Broadened horizons and opened doors
The centre offers music lessons and appreciation classes for students between ages 5-15. Qadi said it was common to begin with a more oriental instrument or a classical one, and once the student has the technique on lock they start to branch out to different genres that they like. He began listening to jazz, blues, rock roll and heavy metal thanks to the institute’s readiness to introduce students to new styles and genres.
The centre clearly has an immense significance to its students. When asked whether the centre has played a big role in Qadi’s life, he said that without exaggeration, it has changed his life.
“Music is the most enjoyable thing I can do.”
To him it hasn’t only introduced him to the world of music but also the world overall. He owes his perfect English to the foreign trombone teachers that taught at the centre, along with his broadened horizons and guidance to move abroad. He has been able to meet so many people internationally thanks to the centre.
“When you are a child, especially when you are a child in a restricted and confined space - basically an open-air prison - you have a very narrow perspective of the world outside.”
“When you get introduced to the world through music, you start to appreciate many things.  I found a newfound appreciation for the black community in United States for coming up with the jazz and blues, and it was something I didn’t know existed but now I have mad respect for it,” Qadi continued.
Music as resistance
When asked about any success stories starting from Al Kamanjati, Qadi said a lot of his ex-peers have now gone on to become professional musicians or teachers, or are playing in famous orchestras or bands.
Qadi believes this is a part of the array of forms of Palestinian resistance. To him art has always been a path towards freedom and resilience, as it speaks to the soul and emotion. It becomes increasingly important when you have these imposed restrictions on your life, your freedom, and your movement.
“Music then becomes this beautiful thing that turns all this anger and negative emotion and frustration into something beautiful that attract the ears of millions of people. I think that is what is really empowering.”
Qadi was doubtful this creative resistance would bring Palestinians their rights back but believed it to be significant nevertheless; it was a way to craft all this negative emotion into something majestic. 
This brought him to talk about Abu Radwan, the centre’s founder, who had lived through the First Intifada and its horrors. He was fortunate enough to be scouted by a violist and get a scholarship to study abroad. This is what had made him create Al Kamanjati; to provide a similar chance to children from the region to channel their frustration into something beautiful.  
This was the encapsulation of this type of resistance. To create something so beautiful from the most unlikely place, and against all odds.
The restrictions that are a daily occurrence in Palestinian life have transformed into motivation to do the best you can in Kamanjati students and teachers.
“This is our way of saying I am, I am alive, my voice will be heard, through my instrument and through my performance, and I will reach the hearts of people. I will bring joy to people and I will have fun with them when I play music and there is nothing you can do about it to stop me,” Qadi concluded.

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