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Living in Harmony: Music, Memory and Encounters between Jewish, Muslim and Christian Neighbours

Generously funded by the KC Shasha Charitable Foundation, this project focuses on the cultural and social implications of musical encounters between Jewish, Muslim, and Christian neighbours in historical Iraq and Syria. It examines how the role of music and musical performance created a sense of communal belonging in the past and may continue to create a sense of commonality among various faith communities in diaspora. In other words, how interactions through shared musical traditions have influenced Jewish, Muslim, and Christian relations in the past and how the consideration of music and musical encounters can facilitate interfaith dialogue in the present and in the future.

The investigation centres on two cities: Aleppo in Syria and Baghdad in Iraq. Aleppo and Baghdad were chosen because of their historic cosmopolitanism, as seen in the evidence of close association among Jewish, Christian and Muslim communities. Can a reminder of this shared past, especially through music and the Arabic language, contribute toward shaping an intercommunal present within Baghdadi and Aleppian, more properly known as Halabi, communities in diaspora?

Various faith communities lived together for centuries in the Middle East, fostering and facilitating the borrowing, adapting and integrating of traditions into a shared local culture. In diaspora, this shared local culture - in theory - carries on through the various community groups coming out of Syria and Iraq. This transmission and influence is what the Living in Harmony project investigates, with a particular emphasis on the cultural domain of music.

Shabandar Cafe in Baghdad, known to be open to various faith communities in the city. Coffee houses were the primary venues for public entertainment in Middle Eastern cities. Source: Indrajit Roy Choudhury, Indropsphere

Several events associated with this project will take place in the coming year. We are also developing a concert series in conjunction with the research not only to showcase music from Syria and Iraq but also to experience encounter through the music itself.


13 February 2019. Workshop: Roots, Diaspora, and Belonging - A Musical Exploration

29 October 2018. Film Night: Ballad for Syria

23 April 2018. 'The Politics of Rhythm' with Greg Ellis

23 April 2018. Workshop 'Encounter Culture'


2018. Kol Echad: Living in Harmony

The Kol Echad choir of Beth Shalom synagogue perform an interesting style of music: Jewish songs adapted in the Anglican choral form. Danielle Padley, the choir's director, explains the fascinating source of these compositions.