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Just under one hundred musicians from thirteen countries in the Middle East have collaborated on an album specifically aimed at promoting peace throughout areas of the Middle East both historically and contemporarily impacted by violence and strife. The album has been arranged and produced by Iranian musician Medhi Rajabian, according to Al Jazeera, and features artists from Iran, Turkey, Yemen, Palestine, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan, Oman, Egypt, Bahrain, Azerbaijan, and Tajikistan. Al Jazeera further reported that the album, which was released on Friday by Sony Music features eleven songs, nearly all of which were written by the artists themselves. Newsweek also states that the album, entitled “Middle East” is meant to promote peace and human rights throughout Middle Eastern nations and communities by utilizing and celebrating the tones and notes of both Middle Eastern music and broader culture.
Rajabian, the driving force behind this musical Middle Eastern peace promotion process, relayed to Al Jazeera that “We have tried to use local instruments in the album because our priority was to highlight the native tunes of the Middle East.” Al Jazeera additionally reported that Rajabian recognizes a “coherent sadness” throughout the album, which he attributes to “the shared pain between people living in the Middle East,” which is best addressed, in his opinion, “through the language of music.” In addressing the overarching purpose of the album, Rajabian lists war, persecution, human rights violations, and poverty as the activities and ideals which the album opposes. Further, Reza Deghati, the Iranian photojournalist whose photo is featured on the cover of “Middle East” has said with regard to the creation of the album that “universal peace” should be the homogenous goal of the artists, in addition to the belief that “to make a better future, art is the solution.”
Both the sentiment behind, as well as the dedication to the execution of an album seeking to artistically promote Middle Eastern peace are admirable particularly when contextually referenced in accordance with potential government repercussions for the creation of the piece. In addition, a peace project that unites the voices of artists with numerous national and ethnic identities and backgrounds across the Middle East stands to oppose the rhetorical basis for the Global North’s far-right white supremacy revival in terms of xenophobic political rhetoric surrounding immigration and Islam. In this sense, the album works to promote peace both in its content, as well as through its underlying rhetoric in response to hateful rhetoric surrounding the Middle East often promoted by Global North conservatives.
According to Newsweek, Rajabian’s interest in music began at a young age, and he eventually became affiliated with the underground music scene in Tehran, Iran’s capital, where the songs, instruments, and genres not allowed under governmental prohibitions were displayed, however relatively secretly. Rajabian eventually began a company called “Barg Music,” where alternative music was recorded, produced, and published. He was arrested, and his company seized after six years of business, and has served two stints in jail for his musical endeavours. Now on temporary bail after an eighteen-month term, Rajabian has organized the peace project despite his awareness of the possibility for further incarceration following its release.
It may be so that the arts are often overlooked as strategies for promoting certain public policies or ideologies politically. The peace album entitled “Middle East,” however attempts at the very least to merge the interests of politics and governance with those of artists in fostering peaceful interpersonal and interstate relationships. The album works, in addition, to discredit the rhetorical image of Middle Eastern communities as inherently violent thereby justifying fear and hate, by purposely opposing violent ideologies through the use of diverse backgrounds converging for the sole sake of Middle Eastern peace.