The tradition of musicians writing songs or composing projects centered around issues of social justice, race, prejudice or war, is of course a longstanding one.
Even if it has been on the wane for a long time as far as popular, mainstream music is concerned, it is a tradition encapsulating some of the most important artists and their most important works through the decades, and spanning all genres and cultures, from blues and reggae to sixties idealism, seventies’ punk rock and early urban hip-hop.
So too with the longstanding power of music to act as a bridge between mindsets and even cultures, or to serve as a trigger-point for social or cultural awakening in individuals and eventually even communities. Even Billie Holiday’s seminal song about racism, ‘Strange Fruit’, was written by a young Jewish communist named Abel Meeropol after seeing images of a lynching in Alabama.
When top Israel-based musician and songwriter Daniel Dor told me about the ‘Songman’ project, it was difficult not to be intrigued, both as a fellow musician and as someone who hears the sentence ‘Israeli musician writing the song of a West Bank peace activist’ and naturally wants to know more.
It was while travelling in India that Daniel met a man named Antwan – a peace activist based in Bethlehem. Antwan, despite being exposed to the ongoing violence inflicted by the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, is nevertheless someone who chose a non-violent path of activism in both the Palestinian and Israeli communities, seeking to be an influence for dialogue and reconciliation. The encounter provided creative inspiration.
“This led me to the realization that other people’s inspirational stories can inspire both music and song,” Daniel says, “and have the power to communicate a vision of brotherhood unmatched by any other medium.”
Daniel wrote and sang ‘Antwan’s Song’ as the first ‘chapter’ of what would become the ‘Songman’ project, building a creative bridge with his Palestinian neighbour (listen to the demo version here).
The ‘Songman’ initiative is to go to different parts of the world and create songs that tell the stories of people who dedicate their lives towards positive change in areas of conflict and social injustice, through creative collaborations involving artists and activists. Each interaction of the ‘Songman’ with each of these remarkable people will be also documented on film.
‘Songman’ will exist on a website world-map, inviting viewers to engage in the individual stories of each person being portrayed. Each story will be told through song and a 7-9 minute documentary, concentrating on the life, agenda, purpose and actions of the people being portrayed.
I spoke to musician and songwriter Daniel Dor recently to find out more about the project and what it hopes to achieve…
So Daniel, tell us about the ‘Songman’ initiative for tolerance…
‘Songman’ is a journey of hope and inspiration aiming to create a change in mankind’s behaviour. Basically a songwriter is meeting remarkable people who created and are creating a positive change in areas of conflict or social injustice. Through every encounter which we call “interview windows” a song is created. this song is about the vision and the actions of that person he meets. Every encounter is also documented and becomes a Songman episode.
Tell us about your first encounter with ‘Antwan’…
I met Antwan in India when I was performing in front of a social enterprise called “leaders quest”. Antwan made a huge impression with his enthusiasm and emotional devotion towards creating a solution to the Israeli Palestinian conflict. First we became friends, then we decided to travel together for a few days. During that time I learned more about his vision and work spreading Non-Violent Communication and Non Linear Thinking in our communities. But what touched me the most was his authenticity and emotional depth.
How would you describe the impact Antwan has had on you…? Is it true you had never been friends with someone on the ‘other side’ of the Israeli/Palestinian divide before meeting him…?
Antwan opened my mind to new ways of dealing with the conflict, not through politics, through community work and change of perception. And yes – I never interacted with a Palestinian before. This fact was exciting and mind-opening.
The Songman vision is described as being ‘to inspire new values and behaviors for mankind in the 21st Century’: could you expand further on that…?
We live in a (forgive my French) a shitty world where most of what we see is derived by power, money, extreme individualism, extreme capitalism and short term thinking. I’m hoping to help make that change.
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How do you view the Israeli/Palestinian issue…? Have your views changed over time…?
Yes, most of my life I was a “left” wing idealistic. now I don’t really believe that politics is the real solution, it’s just the technical one. If there will be no work done from the grassroots level, there will be nothing to base a solution upon.
How important do you think the role is of music/musicians when it comes to important social or political discourse…?
Hmmm… a good song speaks directly to your soul. No brain mechanism interfering. So the effect can be tremendous.
As a fellow musician, I’m interested in knowing what your experience has been like, working as a musician in Israel…?
Always hard, It’s a small market and very main stream. I enjoyed every second but had rough times with bands I played with, and my own album. The good thing about the Israeli crowd is that when they dig you – they LOVE you. Very warm.
I noticed you reference Bob Marley, John Lennon and Bob Dylan on the site. Are they your inspirations…?
As freedom fighters – yes. But the project has many other inspirations, such as Sonic Highways (the Dave Grohl/Foo Fighters film series), David Lynch’s Interview project, the Sugar-Man documentary and many more.
How would you sum up what the Songman project is hoping to achieve…?
Create a 0.095% change (in people), going from self-concentrated behaviors towards an open-minded ones.
What sort of interest or support have you been receiving in your initiative from people in general…?
Every meeting I have about this project is a success in terms of recruiting help. The first chapter also receives great responses. It all feels very true and very effective.
Can you tell us anything about what might be coming in future ‘chapters’…?
The next episodes will deal with different change-makers, and create their songs. The next one is going to be Moses Sechaba from South Africa. He was a gang member in South Africa and later on started trafficking drugs to London. After serving 2 years in jail he decided to start a rehabilitation center which became very successful and effective, now he is a community leader in South Africa. I am going to spend some days with him and a film crew and write his song.
You can contribute to the crowd-funding campaign here.
Songman’s first episode can be watched here.
The first finished song is here:
And you can join or follow the Facebook group here.
A great project, I wish it every success.