23 February 2012
Ramallah, West Bank
“I want to bring a smile to the faces of the Palestinian people,” explained John McLaughlin, and he delivered on his arrival to Ramallah on 14 February.
Following years of planning, the English guitarist joined legendary tabla player Zakir Hussain to perform the Palestine solidarity concert they had long dreamt of. Each of the 750 seats were filled with eager music fans, and the duo arrived on stage with excitement high in the audience. Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority Salam Fayyad was among the faces in the crowd, as the Grammy winners put both heart and soul into the long-awaited performance. The night drew to an emotional end when eight children in t-shirts emblazoned with the name of their UNRWA refugee camp joined the band on stage to present gifts of gratitude; a symbolic moment to show what the performance meant to them.
Funds raised from the concert will support a range of child protection and psychological programmes run by UNRWA in partnership with Al Mada Association for Arts-Based Community Development, the only music therapy centre in the occupied Palestinian territory. McLaughlin has been a longstanding supporter of the Ramallah-based organisation, leading him to donate an entire cash prize from the Jazzahead Festival to the Association in 2010.
Far more significant than any financial donation was the physical arrival of the musicians in the occupied Palestinian territory. Raising international awareness while propelling the music and arts scene forward, it is hoped that McLaughlin and Hussain are only the first of many international musicians who will entertain and support the Palestinian people.
When asked why they had travelled to the West Bank, the two were succinct: "If you‘re not part of the solution, you‘re part of the problem." A much-loved mantra from the 1960s that remains as inspirational today. UNRWA would like to thank both John McLaughlin and Zakir Hussain for their commitment to the project, and moreover for the fantastic night they offered to all those in attendance.