Muslims, Christians, Kurds, music: WikiLeaks finds a connection
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‘What do you get when a U.S. Army band plays an Eastern Orthodox wedding hall in a Yezidi town with Arab, Christian and Kurdish musicians under the watchful gaze of the Barzani patriarch, a crucifix, and the Iraqi flag, plus a banner celebrating the anniversary of an anti-Saddam uprising?’
It’s not often that the opening paragraph of a diplomatic cable reads like a Monty Python sketch.
For a Sunday Cultural Exchange column, we found this dispatch, from Iraq, while seeing the various ways that classical music is used in diplomatic circles; it was discovered among the 250,000 State Department cables recently released via WikiLeaks.
While the State Department won’t say how the cable system works, it appears that the author of this report is former chargé d’affaires of the Baghdad Embassy and current ambassador to Sri Lanka, Patricia Butenis.
The rest of the dispatch, which follows, is full of tips on how to deal with a hostile crowd, how to solve the cellphone problem at concerts and what to do when the decorators go rogue.
Before you read on, a bit of context: The scene: Ain Sifni, a village 30 miles north of Mosul, Iraq This is the first attempt at cultural diplomacy in the area and the concert discussed is part of a series designed to fulfill the requirements of a grant that provided instruments to the Mosul Academy of Fine Arts Institute. The diplomats who organized the concert are trying to balance the needs of the majority Kurdish Yezidi and minority Arab Muslim and Iraqi Christian populations.
And now, over to our correspondent on the scene:
‘First up were two young Christian music students from Mosul playing classical guitar music. A
barn-like venue with a lousy sound system and 250 people who would have been arrested in the Kennedy Center is not the place for a guitar recital.
‘Mercifully, our ever-ingenious PAO told our movement team to leave their dukes up, meaning the electronic counter-measures we employ against remote detonated IEDs served the higher purpose of keeping 250 Iraqis off their cellphones for two hours. ECM notwithstanding, the guitarists, one of whom was quite good, never had a chance and departed to the most tepid applause.
‘Arab conservatory students were next up on piano (electric) and violin, playing a respectable mazurka with slightly less tumult from the boisterous crowd. We had a momentary panic when, after distracting us for less than a minute earlier in the day, local organizers snuck a pair of Kurdish flags onto the stage, to go with the one on the front of the podium.
‘Even our dukes could not overcome that, so our PAO ordered the town scoured for an Iraqi flag. From whence it came we may never know, but by showtime, the new Iraqi flag was up between the two Kurdish banners.
‘Our Arab Muslim guests, who never would have dared to make the trip up without our sponsorship, took it all in stride but were grateful for the gesture. Just as it took American intervention to place the symbols of the Iraqi state in the venue, it took two U.S. Army trumpeters playing a trio with the
Arab pianist to win over the audience.
‘[After this,] five Army brass players, anchored by an improbably slight tuba player, quickly got and held the room’s attention with jazz, Dixieland and Army standards. However, by the quintet’s seventh piece, the organizers were clearly looking to move on to the headliner.’
And it continues under the writer’s title: ‘This Kurd goes up to 11.’
‘The headliner was a well-known Kurdish musician, playing a traditional instrument plugged into an
industrial-sized amplifier and accompanied by a synthesizer capable of laying down a back-beat and replicating Kurdish horns. Within a few seconds, it was impossible to hear anyone speaking in the crowd; Kurdish caterwauling filled every nook and cranny in the room, and the inevitable dance of the inter-locked pinkies began, first as a contrived display, but eventually as a bona fide Kurdish hoe-down.
‘Christians, Sunni Muslims and Americans had their turn on the stage, but this was a fleetingly inclusive Kurd-a-palooza in which we clearly danced to another’s tune. The power of our instruments, acting through the power of our soldiers, can quiet the crowd when we are all in harmony, but it cannot long overpower the indigenous noise of this place.’
-- Marcia Adair