The sounds of peace are soothing in times of war

The name Adamai pays homage to the Hebrew and Arabic words humankind (adam), land (adama), blood (dam) and water (mayim). It is with images of all these that the Adamai Ensemble performs and records its music, all the while hoping for peace.

The ensemble was unofficially created when, at the beginning of the second intifada, Jewish and Arab musicians Shlomo Gronich, Lubna Salame and colleagues recorded the song “We Brought Peace Upon Us,” an anthem of the Peace Child Israel organization.

In their short collection “Adamai Ensemble,” the English lyrics, written by Melisse Lewine-Boskovich, are decidedly under-whelming, if not downright trite. For example, an excerpt from the second track, the English version of “Too Absurd” goes like this: “Ice-cream, movies/ Hiking and streams/ Taken for granted in children’s dreams.”

Lyrics like these fail to express the gravity of what they’re addressing — war in general, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in particular. Nevertheless, the melodies, written by Gronich, are beautiful, and Salame’s vocalizations are profoundly moving.

Thanks to the force of the singing and playing, the strength of the sentiment behind the lyrics frequently comes across. Both “Too Absurd” (the Hebrew version and the English version) and “A Song” express frustration and confusion about what it means to make music in the middle of a seemingly endless conflict. Both were written in the context of last summer’s war with Lebanon.

The first track is the Hebrew version of “Too Absurd.” The English rendition follows — heartbreaking but also a little funny. “A Song” is mostly English with a bit of Hebrew and some Arabic. It expresses frustration with the ineffectiveness of songs that promise to make change in the world but don’t. “How many times must the cannonballs fly?/ Were the words that we sang / Hoping no one would die.”

But hopes arise when the lyrics suggest a song might actually change things: “And all I’ve been trying to do for so long/ Is to find the right words I could use for a song/ Just one more song.” Salambe’s mournful Arabic phrases at the end of those verses make for the best vocal moments on the album.

The last track, “Capture the Moment,” is the most affecting piece over all. It’s a whopping 15 minutes of good instrumentals, starting slow and building to stomping, Middle Eastern dance music. Both Imad Dallal’s oud and Albert Piamenta’s Arabic reed instruments get to show off.

Perhaps it is so successful because it doesn’t try to explain itself. Instead, it lets listeners decide what to think for themselves.

The album — a project supported by the New Israel Fund and other groups — may be worth buying in the hard copy version just for the cover art, which shows flames ravaging an ambiguous cityscape, with mosques and what looks like the Golden Gate Bridge, menaced by a mushroom cloud. A few flowers on the side seem jarringly out of place among the roughly sketched charcoal buildings.

Despite reservations about some of the lyrics, the CD’s message works. Between our ouds, keyboards and voices, we might just find a way to change things.

Penina Eilberg-Schwartz
Penina Eilberg-Schwartz

Penina Eilberg-Schwartz is a member of IfNotNow and a former intern at J. She grew up in Palo Alto and is currently working on a book about the life of Palestinian peace activist Sulaiman Khatib.