25 countries, 17 musicians, OneBeat
What happens when you put 17 musicians from all over the world in a month long creative/educational residency program and they come to Seattle to collaborate with local educators and musicians? An energizing, inspiring, beautiful, fun and informative evening at the Langston Hughes Performing Arts Center, that’s what!
I showed up to the event having never heard of OneBeat, despite the fact it has been around since 2012 and had hosted over 80 musicians to date. It’s a pioneering music diplomacy initiative from the U.S. Department of State that brings the world’s brightest artists and musicians together for a dynamic one-month creative residency in the United States. The goal: promote cross-cultural collaboration between artists of diverse backgrounds, and demonstrate how it’s possible to transcend boundaries of race, region, religion and politics through music.
Mission accomplished, I’d say. The musical performances, often new works composed and rehearsed as the group made their way from the Bay Area to Seattle, were outstanding, from singers harmonizing with a chanting wail from Serbia to a group playing futuristic-sounding rhythms on an electronic instrument called a theremin. There were panel discussions addressing questions such as “What role does politics play in your music?” (musicians from Egypt and Kosovo, for example) and “How do you avoid cultural appropriation when collaborating with people from other countries?” (Paul Simon’s musical director on the “Graceland” controversy, and a hip hop producer on the role of samples in rap) and “How is music a vehicle for social change?” (the first Pride parade in Turkey, women creating awareness through musical avenues in a variety of African nations). After an hour and a half of performance and discussion, the musicians retired to the downstairs hall for a reception to allow audience members to meet, mingle, and continue the conversation.
Kudos to the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs for financing this wonderful program, and to all the people who got involved as sponsors, participants, and educational partners. Being at this event reminded me of the power of art to transform. I want to learn about other ways people are using art to connect, to empower, to change lives and break down barriers. I am inspired to sing more, and to use music in my work, since it is, no matter how trite the phrase, truly the universal language.
Check out the video below to see what social engagement looks like at OneBeat!