LSM Newswire

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Music with a message: Genesis at the Crossroads releases "Saffron Caravan Unfolding"

CHICAGO, Jan. 26, 2010Genesis at the Crossroads, a Chicago-based non-governmental organization dedicated to bridging cultures in conflict through the arts, has announced the world music ensemble’s debut of its first compact disc, “Saffron Caravan Unfolding." Comprised of musicians from Iran, Afghanistan, Cuba, Morocco and the United States, Saffron Caravan is one of the most unique collections of musicians ever found together, all committed to bridging humankind through art and serving up an engaging model for others to follow. Together, they collaboratively create new art while exploring the sacred and mystical traditions in Arab, Jewish and Persian music and its poetic influences. Infused with sub-Saharan roots of blues and jazz, including ethnic African, Sufi, Gnaoua and Rai music, where jazz harmonica and piano meet Persian santour, spiced with Afro-Caribbean percussion – their evocative melodies transport international audiences.

Their expansive repertoire, spans seven languages and multiple keys. Five of the nine musicians are Grammy Awardees and/or nominees. Genesis at the Crossroads sustains the impact of Saffron Caravan’s performances through arts-education master classes, speaking engagements, community partnerships, cross-cultural exchanges and humanitarian work. Their performances, which also feature foreign integrated artists, demonstrate that the arts can be used to build sustainable bridges between cultures in conflict.

Saffron Caravan artists include Grammy-award winner Howard Levy of Chicago, piano and diatonic harmonica prodigy, also the musical director; cantor Alberto Mizrahi, world-renowned American vocalist; Haj Youness, Moroccan oud virtuoso; Horacio “El Negro” Hernandez, Grammy Award-winning Cuban-born drummer; Humayun Khan, Afghan vocalist and harmonium musician; Kiu Haghighi, Iranian santour virtuoso; Jean-Christophe Leroy, American/Canadian percussionist; Shahin Shahida, Iranian guitarist; and Victor Miranda, Cuban-born bassist.

Since its establishment in 1999, Genesis at the Crossroads has paired artists from disparate communities and cultural backgrounds in a series of artistic, educational and humanitarian programs. The music serves as an enduring reflection of the mission of the organization, which is to connect people of all faiths and all backgrounds through the neutral and creative space of art, allowing them to set aside their differences with the goal of healing our fractured world. “We believe the arts profoundly reach our common core, transcend cultural barriers and link us all for the greater good of humankind.

"‘Saffron Caravan Unfolding’ makes a beautiful statement for us to fully embrace other cultures; it is through the arts that we all can access our humanity while preserving and honoring personal and cultural identities,” noted Wendy Sternberg, MD, Genesis at the Crossroads’ Founder and Executive Director, referring to the ensemble she formed. Since 1999, under the leadership of Sternberg, Genesis at the Crossroads has created and produced over 100 cross-cultural collaborative programs. Preceding those of Saffron Caravan include the pairing of a Jewish-Moroccan and Muslim-Moroccan musician and the celebrated Israeli-Palestinian cross-cultural performance that became an integral part of the United Nations’ 60th Anniversary celebration.

Re-configured from its predecessor, known as the Genesis World Music Ensemble, Saffron Caravan previously presented cross-cultural programs uniting musicians from cultures in conflict at major international venues including the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C., Chicago, and Rabat, and Casablanca, Morocco, the latter under the auspices of His Majesty the King of Morocco. “Wherever and wherever our ensemble travels, our musicians engage in cross-cultural dialogue through the arts with one another and our foreign guest artists,” Sternberg continued. “Our ensemble musicians serve as a model for other disciplines to emulate. While it is not feasible for the artists to perform and teach in all corners of the world, they can have a much broader footprint, especially impacting youth, through the use of technology, whether it be in the form of a CD or via a digital download.”

The eight song tracks songs chosen for the CD include the recorded performance of Kiu Haghighi, ; Jean-Christophe Leroy and Howard Levy, also known as “The Saffron Caravan Trio;”songs include “Gol-E Gandom” “Elegua/Barchu/ 9/8 Improvisation/Ochosi Suite,” “Keely”, “Samai Shad Araban,” “Jesu Joy Of Man’s Desiring Swing Low Sweet Chariot,” “La Comida La Manana,” “Nesirkhani with 5/8 Improvisation,” and “The Blues from Chicago.”

Ninety percent of the proceeds from the CD sales will help underwrite and facilitate Saffron Caravan’s performances around the world and facilitate the distribution of musical instruments for Genesis at the Crossroads’ companion humanitarian program, Arm Them with Instruments, in which North American youth collect gently-used instruments to donate to children around the world living in conflict zones or challenged circumstances.

Additional local partnership organizations donate music lessons to the beneficiary children. Genesis at the Crossroads’ model marries Saffron Caravan performances with arts-education initiatives by prolonging artist stays in each country, creating wider opportunities for engagement through small class instruction and a series of artists-in-residence master classes. These learning labs maximize individual student time with and exposure to extraordinary international artistic talent while fostering cross-cultural understanding and the creation of dialogue through art. Sternberg is in discussion in multiple conflict areas in the Middle East, North Africa and the United States to continue the model of open dialogue.

“I believe that we as a society need to engage in opportunities to come together in the face of globally polarizing conflicts and foster dialogue across the barriers,” she said. “I can think of no better medium than that of the neutral and creative space the arts provide for us all to explore our identities in a thought-provoking manner.”

The cover artwork and signature image for ‘Saffron Caravan Unfolding’ was created by Genesis Board Member Leonard Lehrer, who is the director of the Printmaking Convergence Program at the University of Texas, Austin. The CD’s artistic portrait photography was done by Megan Bearder Photography. “Leonard Lehrer has graced the world with a masterpiece that incorporates musical, cultural and architectural elements that embody the core mission of Genesis at the Crossroads,” noted Sternberg. “The layers of his digital print image portray Persian and Muslim cultural roots and images with physical places in the Middle East and North Africa. He represents other parts of the world with a central rose, which represents the concept of something beautiful blossoming with great potential to widely unfold. When we explore our history, we inherently have both clarity and uncertainty regarding memory; using art can collectively embrace and preserve both.

Lehrer’s vivid imagery shows us we can collectively acknowledge this duality and comfortably embrace and preserve both aspects of memory.”

The CD retails for $20 USD and can be purchased via the Genesis online store or via DigStation. The music will also be available via digital music channels, including iTunes. Genesis at the Crossroads’ brand of arts diplomacy has garnered the attention of the U.S. Department of State through the allocation of funds from its prestigious Performing Arts Initiative as well as the Illinois Arts Council’s Ethnic and Folk Arts Division and their Governor’s International Arts Exchange Program.

Genesis at the Crossroads is currently looking for additional private donations, corporate sponsors and underwriters in order to continue to provide world-class, culturally diverse elements interwoven with adjunct arts education and humanitarian programs.

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