SAN DIEGO—Klezmer violinist and film director, Yale Strom of San Diego, appeared at a rare concert staged at the UN General Assembly last Saturday night, September 12. Appearing with the band Junoon headed by Southeast Asian Muslim superstar, Salman Ahmad, the concert brought the assembly of diplomats and distinguished guests to its feet.
The "Concert for Pakistan," organized by the Pakistani Mission to the UN, was staged to bring attention to the plight of the Swat Valley refugees, who number 3 million and represent one of the quickest and largest displacements of people ever recorded. Ahmad, a UN Goodwill Ambassador, called for helping Pakistan deal with the threat posed by Al Qaeda and the Taliban who are the cause of the massive refugee situation.
As the first klezmer musician to perform at the UN General Assembly, a pinnacle venue for any musician, the multi-talented Strom is also, ironically, the producer/director of The Last Klezmer, a film short-listed for an Oscar that depicts the life and times of an elderly Holocaust survivor who was still practicing his musical craft in Poland.
Strom was introduced to Salman Ahmad two and a half years ago by Dr. Mark Rosenblum, Director of the Center for Jewish Studies at Queens College, NY, who contacted Strom as part of a program to "bridge the divide" amongst Muslims, Jews, other faiths and cultures. Ahmad, a participant in the program, and Strom have since formed their own musical project to bring greater harmony - literally! - between Jews and Muslims.
Ahmad, a Pakistani, and pop star in India and other countries in the region, has sold over 25 million CD’s. Together with Strom
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and other musicians, they call their group Common Chords (www.commonchordsmusic.com), a multi-ethnic band and peace initiative who has performed concerts in San Diego and New York and are seeking to stimulate dialog through performance at more universities, synagogues, mosques, and music festivals throughout the world.
Ahmad, also an organizing force of the UN concert, introduced fellow band member Strom to cheers and applause, "My good brother, my Jewish friend Yale Strom - who is a master of klezmer violin – I am grateful that he is here joining me tonight for this Concert for Pakistan".
International singers performed in the three-hour event in the gold-and-blue hall, which was packed to capacity. In attendance were other high profile personalities, including Nobel Laureate RK Pachauri, Deepak Chopra, eBay co-founder Jeff Kroll and singer Sting, who did a video address to the audience. Concert video is scheduled for worldwide broadcast on United Nations Television, UNTV.
Strom described reaching near trance-like states during the well received performance that fused middle Eastern and klezmer stylings. "I was doing some of the fingering and music scales that I had been doing for years in klezmer", said Strom, explaining, "The basis of Jewish music is the Middle Eastern scale. Coming from Mesopotamia and Central Asia – going back to Semitic scales that come from the Midddle to the Near East. The audience was so fascinated by the Jewish music having similar chords to the Arabic music".
"Sometimes music can be stronger and more easily understood than language - words sometimes get in the way", said Strom, who is a member of Ohr Shalom Synagogue in San Diego where he resides with wife Elizabeth Schwartz, vocalist for Common Chords and Strom’s band Hot Pstromi. "Good music is good music for any culture."
(Donations to help the Swat Valley victims can be made through the nonprofit Salman and Samina Global Wellness Initiative www.ssgwi.org )