Denisa Lazarescu ’08
The Pilgrimage of the Voice
Award winning author and noted artist Tahar Lamri presented within the second part of the symposium the short story titled “The Pilgrimage of the Voice” which was interpreted in four different languages: standard Italian, as well as Mantovano, Romagnolo, and Venetian dialects. Sitting on the floor, surrounded by students and professors, Tahar Lamri read his story while accompanied by Cafe Mira lead singer, Reda Zine who played the gnawa, a Moroccan musical instrument resembling a lute. Trying to recreate the atmosphere of storytelling around a camp fire, Tahar Lamri and Reda’s spiritual music complemented and emphasized the story of the “The Pilgrimage of the Voice” which delves into the topic of languages and cultures blending and influencing one another across borders. The diverse musical and linguistic experience was meant to underscore the message that communication through storytelling, as the basis of many cultures, is the means to attaining tolerance and understanding among people across the world. As the story of Scheherazade and the “One Thousand and One Nights”, storytelling preserves life, forges bonds among people, ensures cultural progress, and, most importantly, fosters communication. The new Mediterranean, as encapsulated by Tahar Lamri and the band Cafe Mira, is a place of extraordinary exuberance and diversity of cultures where borders are permeable and people engage in a constant dialogue through literature and music.
Katie Stewart ’10
Cafe Mira as a Symbol of Multiculturalism
The New Mediterranean Symposium was effective in presenting the issues surrounding migration, cultural diaspora and identity. One key point of the symposium was that the blending of cultures and acceptance of the “other” can be beneficial to society. Cafe Mira, through the composition of the band itself and their genre, lyrics and instruments, demonstrated the positive effects of multiculturalism. The band is comprised of members from all over the world who, based on stereotypical and historical antipathies, are not even supposed to get along. Despite their range of cultures, Cafe Mira is able to unite and find common ground in their music. Their blending of musical genres, languages and instruments from all over the world further established how borrowing from a variety of cultures can lead to the creation of an enhanced whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. Cafe Mira provides an example of the benefits of tolerance and cooperation that can be gained today if people are willing to accept and appreciate cultures that differ from their own.
This day-long symposium will address new ways of understanding diasporic identity, cultural, political boundaries and exchanges between Europe and North Africa through critical discussions and performances by writers, cultural critics, and musicians. The discussions will conclude with an improvisational and participatory Culture Jam and concert by the world music and Afro-Nord group, Cafe Mira.
Panel discussion with Mark LeVine, University of California, Irvine; Marie Orton, Truman State University, Missouri;and Tahar Lamri, prize-winning author from Italy and Algeria. Tullio Pagano, Associate Professor of French and Italian, will moderate.
Stern Center, Great Room
Tahar Lamri, prize-winning author from Italy and Algeria.
Stern Center, Great Room
Culture Jam titled Diasporic Identities in Art. Culture Jams blend artists, activists, scholars and the audience in performance and dialogue. Mark LeVine, University of California, Irvine; Reda Zine, Cafe Mira band; Tahar Lamri, author; Cotton Seiler, assistant professor of American Studies, Dickinson College; Andrea Lieber, associate professor of religion, Dickinson College and Ed Webb, assistant professor of political science and international studies, Dickinson College, will participate.
Anita Tuvin Schlechter Auditorium
World Music Concert – Cafe Mira from Western Europe and Northern Africa
Anita Tuvin Schlechter Auditorium
Co-sponsors: The Office of the Dean of Students, Department of Music, Multi-Organization Board (MOB), Student Activities; Panhellenic, Intrafraternity Council, Department of French and Italian, and the Middle East Center at the University of Pennsylvania
Issue in Context
The Mediterranean Sea serves as a physical boundary between North Africa and Europe, however this boundary is permeable as people move from one body of land to the other. As Africans and Middle Easterners migrate to European countries, elements of their cultures of origin blend with and affect their host societies. This diasporic process of cultural exchange has sparked considerable debate between those who would welcome a rich mixing of backgrounds and others who see diversity as a threat to the purity of their culture.
Those who favor the presence of new people, ideas, and artistic forms view migration as beneficial to society, believing that differences enrich a country’s culture, providing various viewpoints from traditions upon which new cultural practices might be created. For example, the mixing of musical cultures may lead to the creation of new genres in that diverse musical elements are blended and expanded. In a culturally diverse society, a wide range of perspectives enables lively discussion, opening minds to new ways of understanding the world. This exchange of ideas may lead to a broader knowledge base while people of different backgrounds generate new modes of analysis and approaches to contemporary social problems.
Religion, economy and nationality have emerged as areas of contestation in the Mediterranean. The North African countries of Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt are predominately Muslim as compared with southern European states, which are predominately Christian. Some Christians worry that the influx of Muslims will diminish Europeâ€™s longstanding “Christian identity” and increase the risk of terrorist attacks. Unfortunately, racialized prejudices still exist in Europe, with both popular and official resistance to immigration from parts of the developing world. Some Europeans argue that immigration from Africa leads to a depression of wages and increased competition for jobs in that many impoverished Africans are willing to work for lower wages. Fear of a “collective ethnic threat,” as expressed frequently in the popular press, has lead to the implementation of stricter immigration policies. Jean-Marie Le Pen, a French politician who represents the racist, anti-immigration National Front party, supports policies such as a ban on the building of mosques in France. He argues that immigration is the “biggest problem facing France, Europe and probably the world. We risk being submerged.” This rhetoric clearly illustrates a concern with the influx of foreign populations into France as a might challenge to the supremacy and presumed homogeneity of French culture.
An ongoing debate among those in support of immigration and others in favor of isolation takes place in many different parts of the world. Noted scholar Mark Levine has created an innovative template for political discussion of such issues as the contemporary crisis of identitiy, which he describes as a “culture jam,” a scholarly and artistic dialogue modeled on the free and synergistic experimentation of improvisation and jazz. Culture jamming enables artists, scholars and activists to engage in verbal and non-verbal discussion about pressing current issues such as the issue of cultural diaspora through a creative montage of discussion, performance, and activism. The forum encourages a subversive, open expression of a variety of views and feelings in a free flowing, improvisational format that welcomes audience participation as well as the insights of leading scholars in the field of diasporic studies and creative artists.
About the Participants
Mark LeVine is a professor of modern Middle Eastern history at the University of California, Irvine. His areas of study include the histories, theologies, political and cultural economies of the Middle East and Islam, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and globalization and its effect on the religions and cultures of Europe and the Middle East. He has written extensively on these subjects including Overthrowing Geography: Jaffa, Tel Aviv and the Struggle for Palestine (2005), Why They Don’t Hate Us: Lifting the Veil on the Axis of Evil (2005) and Reapproaching Borders: New Perspectives on the Study of Israel-Palestine, which he co-edited in 2007. Professor LeVine is also a professional musician and has recorded and toured all over the world with various artists such as Mick Jagger and Johnny Copeland. He blends scholarship, music and activism by “culture jamming” around the world. Culture jams bring together scholars, musicians and activists to create an open dialogue on issues of great concern. Professor LeVine received a B.A. in comparative religion and biblical studies from Hunter College and a M.A. and Ph.D. from New York University’s Department of Middle Eastern Studies.
Tahar Lamri is a prize-winning author and graduate of the University of Benghazi Law School. Mr. Lamri was born in Algiers, but has lived in Ravenna, Italy since 1987. As an author, lecturer and artist, Mr. Lamri has taken part in various seminars, conferences and cultural activities. In 1995, his story Solo allora sono certo potrò capire (Only Then, I Am Sure, Will I Be Able to Understand) won first prize for narrative in the literary competition Eks&Tra in Rimini, Italy. Furthermore, Mr. Lamri is currently a member of the European theatre project And the City Spoke, which performs in London, Warsaw and Gdinya. Along with the cultural association Insieme per l’Algeria (Together for Algeria), Mr. Lamri helps to organize the annual initiative ‘Le vie dei venti’ (‘The Ways of the Winds’). Recently, Mr. Lamri has toured the United States with his show, Il pellegrinaggio della voce and co-authored the book I sessanta nomi dell’amore (The Sixty Names of Love) in 2006.
Marie Orton is an associate professor of Italian Studies at Truman State University whose research focuses on immigration in Europe, Holocaust literature and Italian multiculturalism, film and contemporary culture. In 2007, Professor Orton co-edited Multicultural Literature in Contemporary Italy, a collection of prose selections from migrant authors in Italy. She is currently researching comedy in migration literature. Honors received by Professor Orton include a Fulbright Research Fellowship and Truman’s 2006 Educator of the Year award. Professor Orton received her bachelor’s degree from Bringham Young University and a M.A. and Ph.D. in Romance Languages from the University of Chicago.
Cotten Seiler is an assistant professor of American Studies at Dickinson College. His areas of focus include United States cultural and intellectual history, popular culture and social theory. Professor Seiler’s works have been published in journals such as the American Quarterly and the Journal of Popular Music Studies. Professor Seiler earned a B.A. from Northwestern University and a M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Kansas.
Andrea Lieber is the Sophia Ava Asbell Chair in Judaic Studies and an associate professor of Religion at Dickinson College. Professor Lieber’s areas of interest include Judaism and early Christianity, Jewish mysticism (kabbalah) and women and gender in Jewish tradition. Professor Lieber is widely published in journals such as the Jewish Quarterly Review. Professor Lieber received a B.A. from Vassar College and a M.A., M.Phil., and Ph.D. from Columbia University.
Edward Webb is an assistant professor of political science and international studies at Dickinson College. His areas of focus include Middle East politics, comparative politics, international relations, the interaction of religions and politics and the politics of education. Professor Webb earned a B.A. from Cambridge University and a M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania.
Café Mira is a world music and Afro-Nord group from France, Morocco, Algeria and Italy. Their music is a blend of genres that is influenced by traditional African songs, rock riffs, Reggae, jazz, funk and ska. Café Mira’s lyrics are comprised of a variety of languages, a majority of which are in Derija, the Arabic of Morocco. Through their music, Café Mira addresses issues of individual freedom, the right of movement and the violence and hostility suffered by people on both sides of the Mediterranean. The band members are Reda Zine, Paolo Delaforest, Abdeljalil Errougui and Samir Serguini.