“Open up your heart and mind and just listen,” singer Philip Lawrence crooned against a gentle piano accompaniment before slipping into a falsetto sigh during a performance at Los Angeles nightspot The Study late last month.
Lawrence – part of Bruno Mars’ songwriting trio The Smeezingtons – has helped pen hits such as Flo Rida’s “Right Round” and Snoop Dogg’s “Young, Wild, and Free.” Rather than encouraging people to tear up the dance floor or smoke weed, the singer-songwriter hopes his new tune, “Begin Again,” will inspire peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
Lawrence’s song is one of 30 original compositions on the benefit album “2 Unite All,” which was released last month. The album enlists legendary talents like Roger Waters and Peter Gabriel to deliver music with themes of unity, forgiveness, and starting over. The event at The Study also included performances from other artists on the album, including Iranian Sufi singer Sussan Deyhim, composer and Flamenco guitarist Fritz Heede, and organist Christoph Bull, showcasing the wide range of musical styles on “2 Unite All.”
“I’m humbled to be a part of this album and to really just take pause and reflect on what else is going on in the world,” Lawrence said before his performance. “It’s very easy to think that [the] world revolves around yourself, and it does not.”
Proceeds from the album support peace initiatives in the Middle East, along with psychological support for Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. Steve Robertson, the album’s producer and founder of L.A.-based humanitarian group Project Peace on Earth, felt compelled to bring PTSD counselors to Gaza in 2014, when conflict escalated between Hamas and Israeli forces in the western slice of land that borders the Mediterranean Sea. Roughly 2,000 Palestinians and 70 Israelis were killed in 50 days of violence.
At the Hollywood event, Robertson explained that he had heard a story on the news about a four-year-old girl in Gaza who was fighting for her life after a bombing. Robertson became teary-eyed as he recounted that even if the child survived, she’d be on her own, as her entire family had been killed in the bombing. He knew he had to act.
“All of these children are ours,” Robertson said. “They’re looking up to us to take care of them, to protect them, to think like sane and kind human beings.”
For the 1.2 million Palestinians who live there, life in the Gaza Strip is difficult. Although Israeli forces do not live in Gaza, they control the border, restricting travel and the import of goods and resources. Unemployment is high, power outages are frequent, and about 80 percent of Palestinians rely on assistance from international aid agencies to survive.
Shymaa, the girl who inspired Robertson, did survive. He located her nearly a year after hearing her story. Shymaa’s voice is featured on the album on the song “We Are the Ones” as part of the Gaza Children’s Choir.
Album sales will fuel National Center for Community Rehabilitation, an NGO that helps children like Shymaa recover from both emotional and physical war wounds. While funding is crucial, Robertson believes that simply listening to the music can have an impact.
“If we know one thing, there is no greater path to inspire people to a way to peace than music,” he said.
“Buy a song, buy an album, tell a friend,” Robertson urged the crowd. “If we can bring peace there between Palestine and Israel, there’s no question that we can bring peace to the world.”
• Samantha Cowan is an associate editor for culture at TakePart.