“Music is everywhere. When a bird sings, when I drum my fingers on a table, feelings, politics: everything is music. A set of sounds, tones and instruments that harmonically tell our story. This is music. In a world where there is not a common language, where differences are used to create conflicts, music is a universal language.”
While Abu Aqeel speaks, a bunch of kids are listening to him. He is sitting in the living room of his beautiful house, on the top of a windblown hill overlooking the valley from where As Samou’ arises. These are the kids from the community who, over the years, got to know music, thanks to him.
“I have always felt lucky. This is why, after studying music thanks to a class organised by the government, I started teaching young people how to play and sing. As mutually agreed with the school, we decided to develop it as an extracurricular activity in order to involve as many students as possible. But we live in a very poor area, due to the political situation, few job opportunities and a quite dry land. We did not know how to do it, but I did not want to give up. In the end, I made my house available for the kids. I am lucky: I have a big house, a welcoming family. Even the instruments are mine. I did not mind: the important thing was getting the kids to know music.”
Around Abu Aqeel the attention is weakening: the kids are chomping at the bit, talking and smiling. They can’t wait to perform. Like any good maestro, sly but attentive as any good teacher, Abu Aqeel sets the rhythm with his firm gaze and smile, inviting the kids to be patient without saying anything. Meanwhile, an electronic keyboard appears. “To Palestinians, music is a cultural identity marker: from key moments of family and official celebrations to politics and resistance, music governs every aspect of our social and cultural life. This is why it is very important to ensure young people know about music, to teach them how to play and sing. I provided my passion – I am also a composer – my house, my time and instruments. But this was not a sustainable solution. We needed a place to develop a permanent training course. Today, we finally have that place. In the As Samou’ Cultural Centre there will be a room dedicated to music, equipped with contemporary and traditional instruments. I am still going to teach some classes, which makes me happy, and finally these kids will have a place to study, compose, play and sing. I am happy for them.”
Abu Aqeel, nodding with satisfaction, tells the kids crowding around the living room that now is the time. The first three, different ages and wearing traditional clothes, get up. They sing and dance,keeping time with their hands. Then it is the time for Abu Aqeel’s daughter, Lisa. She starts alone with her electronic keyboard, but is embarrassed by the audience. Noticing this, Abu Aqeel goes immediately to her side, starts playing and leading her while others start singing.
It is not over. Among the applause and young people’s laughte, Abu Aqeel’s mother appears and, as in the best Palestinian tradition, starts a traditional song with high pitched sounds and musical scales with her voice. A celebration no one wants to end.
“I have a degree in radiology from al-Quds University and that will be my job, but music – growing up in this house and with my father – has always been my passion. For me, the Centre is a great opportunity.” After putting aside her shyness, Lisa is now smiling. Now it is Watan’s turn, a 10-year-old boy who has never sat still nor silent for a moment, even before performing the traditional dance together with his cousins. “I am 10 years old. Singing and dancing is great! I have always played, thanks to uncle Abu Aqeel, I want to do it forever,” he says, glowing beneath a rebellious lock of hair.
“For us, the news of the Cultural Centre is great news,” Qasam says, a teenager wearing a Barcelona shirt, chest out but with a childlike gaze. “My schoolmates and I have tried to set up a musical centre for young people many times, but there were neither funds nor suitable spaces. Now, finally, we have one. My peers and I do not have a lot of places to meet up, play together and listen to music. I am looking forward to enjoying the Centre”.
Abu Aqeel is smiling, with his hands crossed behind his back. He listens and smiles. Because, as he says, all that enthusiasm is music: the music of the future, the peacefulness of not living only the dimension of a problematic life, but also the freedom of art and creativity.