After the revolution, arts bloom in Tunisia
As Tunisia's 'Jasmine Revolution' turns one, musicians find new venues, funds, and teachers -- along with official support.
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Tunisia became independent in 1956, and since then each successive regime has favored a particular genre. Tunisia's first president, Habib Bourguiba, elevated the Andalusian and Turkish-inspired malouf to the status of "national" music. Ben Ali showcased the mezwed, a popular bagpipe-and-drum arrangement with working-class origins.Skip to next paragraph
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For Ayed, the theme of a Carthaginian hero who drove his troops over the Alps on elephants to a massive victory against Rome resonates deeply with today's events. "Hannibal left Tunisia at the age of 11 and had a tremendous impact on the history of humankind, and the Tunisian revolution has had a similar impact," he says.
Ayed wants to make sure that high-quality classical music in Tunisia will continue to find support. A former bank director, he's in a unique position to align his two vocations for his country's benefit. "Classical music is badly financed, and finance is badly inspired," he says. So Ayed is soliciting his colleagues in finance and government to sponsor performances and opportunities for musicians.
The status of classical music in Tunisia "can only be improved by strong partnerships between government, the private sector, and international performers," adds Kamel Lazaar, a longtime friend of Ayed's who regularly invites musicians to play concerts in his home in Tunis.
American classical pianist Kimball Gallagher and Tunisian violinist Nidhal Jebali have already forged such a partnership. The night before the "Hannibal" performance, Mr. Gallagher and Mr. Jebali played a Kennedy Center concert featuring several of Ayed's compositions. They had previously played together at a concert funded and hosted by the American Embassy in Tunis.
The two met through Gallagher's work with Cultures in Harmony, an American nonprofit organization that works to connect young musical talent with world-class teachers. Director William Harvey said that while his organization is not political, he has sought out opportunities in the Middle East to "establish the person-to-person connections with the populations in Arab countries."
"What we as musicians can do is travel to Tunisia, perform with local musicians, perform local music, advise and assist where possible, and symbolize through our presence and our musicmaking an unwavering friendship with the people," Mr. Harvey says.
Harvey encouraged Jebali, the violinist, to apply for college music scholarships in the United States. Today Jebali is in his third year of study at Jacobs School of Music at the University of Indiana, Bloomington, and is recognized as one of the most promising young Tunisian musicians. He played two original compositions at his Kennedy Center debut, one inspired by a traditional Tunisian melody.
Speaking after the performance, Gallagher expressed optimism about the future of Tunisian classical music. "Good composition like this demonstrates an advanced level of musical understanding," he said. "And to have Tunisian com-posers on the international stage shows that their musical voice is getting louder, just as the country is now gaining its political voice."