Imagine a beautiful summer afternoon with an amazing world music band performing a free concert in downtown Boston. It’s a nice scene, isn’t it? But something very curious is happening. Listen closely and you realize the lyrics are in Hebrew. But how on earth is Hebrew being sun over distinctly Indian rhythms?
What the heck is going on?
Find out for yourself on Sunday, July 21 at 4 pm at the American debut of Shye Ben Tzur and the Rajasthan Gypsies, a unique band of Israeli and Indian musicians who produce what they call ‘world devotional groove music.’ It’s the grand finale of Boston’s first Outside the Box Festival, a new, free nine-day festival of over 200 music, dance, and theater events presented in partnership with the Boston Jewish Music Festival.
Everything about this is proving to be extraordinary.
Let’s start with the music. It is simply irresistible. Shye is an Israeli songwriter who fell in love with Indian music – more specifically Qawwalli music, which is a Sufi-based call and response style of devotional music. He moved to India, studied with Indian musical gurus, and started writing Hebrew lyrics to qawwali music. While I’m no expert, I am struck by the similarity in approach of this music to Song of Songs. The lyrics are about love and fulfillment only the beloved is often divine, not human. And don’t worry; Shye gives a translation of his lyrics in English before most songs. The sound is contemporary, accessible, and just makes you want to get up and dance. Personally, I think Shye is producing music as exciting as Israel’s other world music master, Idan Raichel.
But what is proving to be just as extraordinary is how warmly this event is being welcomed in Boston’s Indian community. From Indian participants in a Google non-profit class I attended to the local coordinator of the American Indian Foundation to a Sikh community leader who is hoping to hold a community feast for the group to Indian sponsors including Deepak Chopra’s brother, the Indian community loves the music but is even more excited to showcase Indian:Israeli:Jewish cooperation. As a result, the concert is being made possible by support from both Jewish and Indian philanthropists, as I believe it should be. After all, if the music is a fusion of two great mystic and musical traditions, the funding that makes the concert possible should be multi-ethnic, too.
And that is what gives me hope. Like when BJMF began some 5 years ago, I’ve been spending the last few weeks introducing myself and this idea to people I had no clue even existed two months before. In high tech, finance, and medicine, there are so many occasions when Jews and Indians are working together and becoming friends. I never had an Indian friend. But I think I do now. And BJMF even has a very talented Indian intern, Jay Sharma, who will be working on our publicity outreach to the Indian community.
I think this event is an exceptional opportunity for all of us. Not only is it an incredible showcase for Indian and Jewish cultures, this concert is a living, breathing, creative representation of the type of tolerance, cooperation, harmony and creativity inherent in our traditions. The music –and performance– conveys a positive, universal message inspired by shared, almost universal, approaches to spirituality. It is an opportunity to inspire multi-ethnic study, collaborations and friendship. With music this great, the event will be celebration, not just a concert, enjoyed by thousands of area residents of all ages and ethnicities.
On the deepest levels, this entire experience fills me with hope, just like their music does.
BJMF thanks go out to Ted Cutler and the staff at Outside the Box for seeing the incredible potential of this concert and to the Israeli Consulate and our Jewish and Indian sponsors for making it possible.
Please plan on being at Boston City Hall Plaza on Sunday, July 21 at 4 pm to be part of this. Oh, and if you get hungry from all that dancing, there will be a Food Truck Festival going on at City Hall that afternoon, too.
See you there.