November 23, 2015
The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage speaks to Hazami Sayed, the executive director of Al-Bustan Seeds of Culture in advance of the organization’s culminating concert for the Center-funded Words Adorned: Andalusian Poetry and Music on December 5. Hazami talks with us about re-interpreting Arab musical traditions for contemporary Western audiences, the role of the arts in raising awareness about Arab culture and strengthening cross-cultural understanding, and more.
How do you think about tradition? What is its role in your artistic and organizational choices?
Our work is grounded in tradition, though not limited by it. We view cultural production as a dynamic process, continually produced in relation to myriad influences, rather than a static set of traditions and values handed down from generation to generation. Through our various programs, we create forums that invite both youth and adults of all backgrounds to actively produce new cultural forms that incorporate and transform the world around them.
For example, with the Words Adorned project, we are reviving the poetic tradition of Andalusian muwashshahat, by not simply recreating history, but rather re-interpreting it in the present day, showcasing the development of Arab musical tradition (into the modern-day takht) and Western musical tradition (into orchestra and choir). The project brings together these two manifestations of Arab and Western music in a dynamic and contemporary way.
As an ethnically specific organization, what are you doing to meet and address the challenges facing all cultural organizations today, when demographics and cultural consumption patterns are changing so significantly?
The issues we face as an organization immersed in Arab arts and its intersection with various genres and art forms are certainly informed by the prevalent misunderstanding, lack of knowledge, and monolithic views of Arabs and Arab culture and history. To counter heightened fears and prejudices, there is a need for efforts like Al-Bustan’s, to further positive awareness and appreciation for Arab arts and culture in America without the associated political-religious hype, while also providing a way for Arab Americans to connect with their culture and heritage. We have found that our steady growth over the past 13 years has enabled us to consistently offer programming that features Arab artists and educators, while creating forums for people of diverse backgrounds to come together, learn from each other, make art, and experience exemplary artsistic works first-hand.
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