Last Monday, the Middle Eastern Festival took place at the BPC, joining artists from the Mediterranean region with students from all over the world performing music from their homelands.Those who attended the concert experienced an audible insight into a world of rich and diverse history, and took part in an incredible meeting of the sound of numerous civilizations that have lived and contributed to the unique cultural heritage of the Mediterranean.
Coming from a country on the Mediterranean, I have always felt a bewitching attraction to the music from the region. Listening to the Berklee Balkan choir and their throat singing pieces made last Monday a special experience, as I heard something that sounded so close to home.
However, I had never paid much attention to the intercultural connections and links between styles and musical traditions from the region that is culturally so colorful. I guess I had always thought that they were just too diverse and with just too many different influences to be compared and combined together. Therefore I was a bit skeptical at first about the Middle Eastern festival exploring connections between Flamenco, Arabic, Mediterranean, and Balkan music, also reflecting the journey Gypsies took from India to the Mediterranean. I couldn’t have been more mistaken.
The artistic director of Berklee in Valencia‘s Mediterranean Music Institute, Javier Limón, and the Middle Eastern Festival founder, Christiane Karam, did a great job. The primarily flamenco-themed festival titled “Flamenco Today: A Journey Through Andalusia” successfully incorporated and combined sounds from all across the Mediterranean into a beautiful and sound whole. It was at this point that I realized how interconnected this music was. After a mesmerizing three-hour ride through Siguiriya, Andalusian Wasla, Balkan Suite, Mediterranean Soundscape, Tango Flamenco, Peroche and Buleria, it became obvious to me how much all these musical styles have in common.
To think about it, it is really not that surprising. The Mediterranean has always been a place where many civilizations met, a place of migrations, wars, prosperity, large empires and – rich trade. The Greeks had colonies all around the Mediterranean; Alexander the Great established an enormous empire, as well as Romans. Since the destruction of the First Temple, Jewish people have been present all around the region and have left an indispensable contribution in its culture. Arabs dominated the Iberian Peninsula for centuries and their cultural influence was only reduced after the Reconquista, but never ceased to exist, which was also the case with the legacy of the Sephardim after their expulsion in 1492. For centuries, the Ottoman Empire stretched far north into the Balkans, bringing its own cultural contribution and also serving as an intermediary of Arab culture. Gypsies brought their own sound from India and by migrating, they dispersed it through the entire area. The Mediterranean was indeed a crossroads of cultures, where many civilizations have lived or travelled through and each left unique tracks behind them.
The unmatched cultural diversity and heritage of this place makes another argument, why it is so important for Berklee to be present in the region. The words of Sissy Castrogiovanni, a current student of Global Studies at the Berklee Valencia campus, illustrate that vividly: “a great place. Beautiful music, beautiful people.” Simply said, but true.