Israeli group Sheva to perform for peace in S.F. concert

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As part of a World Festival of Sacred Music spurred by the Dalai Lama's call for peacemaking at the millennium, the Israeli Sheva ensemble will appear in San Francisco.

The one-night only program, on Thursday at the Great American Music Hall, is called "The Poetry of Peace." The kickoff event and pièce de resistance of the intercontinental festival was an Oct. 10 concert at the Hollywood Bowl before 17,000 people. But a sweeping series of events will take place through April 2000.

Sheva features Jewish and Arab musicians. Also performing in San Francisco will be Omar Faruk Tekbilek and special guest Jai Uttal, both bright lights in the world music genre.

Jordan Elgrably, co-director of Open Tent Coalition, which is helping to organize the event, said this concert series is coming at an ideal time.

"What better way to ring in the new millennium than with a concert series featuring the best of world music reflecting an ethos and heartfelt desire for an end to hostilities in the Middle East?"

One of five linked international festivals, the World Festival of Sacred Music represents "nothing less than a call to revive the spirit of cooperation and cross-pollination represented by the Golden Age of Spain, when Jews, Muslims and Christians together created the most creative and advanced society in the world," Elgrably added.

That's easy for him to say: Musicians speak their own language.

That said, the series of events promises to be vibrant indeed. The producers have brought in powerhouse performers.

Poetry readings, a film festival, musical and spiritual workshops, a portable mural painted by Arabic and Jewish artists and a documentary called "The Mending Cloth" are part of the plan.

The event is co-sponsored by the Israel Center of the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation, the Consulate General of Israel, Gate Productions and Ivri-NASAWI, the National Association of Sephardi/Mizrahi Artists, Writers and Intellectuals.

Sheva shares the festival aim: to spur peace through "transformative world music from the ancient cultures of the Middle East."

If music can put the message over, Sheva can do it. The ensemble of musicians and vocalists, all at the top of their form, have achieved a unison that is deceptively graceful.

The CD "Day and Night" is beautifully engineered. A diversity of sounds includes the commandingly reedy migwiz, Hebrew chants, trilling flute and percussion that renders the drums melodic.

Much of what claims to be influenced by world music renders traditional scales tepid by soaking them in a warm bath of midi rhythms, giving it all the power of a televised campfire.

This group, on the other hand, has the vibrancy that comes with acoustic instruments.

One question arises, however. Early discographers recorded music that could be considered as powerful as Sheva's. And, some would say, musicians and artists share a language the world over that enables them to communicate more effectively than diplomats.

As the Renewal leader Rabbi Yacov Gabriel wrote, "In some ways they do a better job of revealing the Israeli soul than new sound bytes ever could."

But if beautiful music alone were enough to bring about peace, wouldn't it have happened by now?

"The whole movement of world music today — fusion — is different," said Vavi Toran, director of cultural and educational resources for the S.F.-based JCF. "You go to a cafe in London, eat Indonesian food, your waiter is Japanese. A new culture is emerging that is universal, and this is a path to peace."

Rebecca Rosen Lum

Rebecca Rosen Lum is a freelance writer.