Where is the Refuge? The Melody of our Alienation

The power of the spoken word and the captured image can be woven together in a way that evades description.

I thought I had finished synkroniciti’s short cycle on Yemen, when I ran across this beautiful poem by Yemeni poet Dr. Abdulaziz Al Maqaleh read so sensitively by Sarah Ahmed. It is a lament for the city of Sana’a, the longtime capital of Yemen, one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. It reduced me to tears.

The soft, sensual sibilance of Arabic, the restrained elegance of Tony Anderson‘s Ember, which makes a perfect musical backdrop, and the moving images of Sana’a and its residents, especially the young girls in white dresses running freely among the growing flowers and the crumbling ruins, imbue this short film with deep longing, nostalgia and hope.

May we hold this lovely city and its people in our thoughts. Even more, may we work to end participation in her destruction. Thank you to director Abdurahman Hussain and all who worked on this stunning piece of documentary video. You can read more about Hussain here. Such splendid, human work.

I hope one day that I will be able to visit this incredible, resilient city and to pay her and her citizens respect. Peace!

If you would like to read more of our series on Yemen please check out these links:

Portraits of a Nation: The Devastating Beauty of Yemen

In a Land of Queens: Daughters of Yemen

The Hidden Feminine: Examining the Female Image in Yemeni Art

Transcending Cultures through the Arts, Part One

© Monisha.pushparaj with CCLicense

© Monisha.pushparaj with CCLicense


Why is art a great way to break down barriers? It engages our humanity and reveals common ground between cultures.

The didjeridoo is a wind instrument that originated in Australia around 1500 years ago. Traditionally harvested from trees that have been hollowed out by termites, each didjeridoo possesses a distinct acoustic and unique personality. A particular instrument produces its own very limited range of notes with an enormous range of tone color, depending on the shaping of the player’s tongue and vocal tract.

The didjeridoo has strange inflections: earthy, primal and yet otherworldly. Sometimes the primal is what is required to express basic and deep longings in the human spirit. There are sounds and images that cut across cultures and seem to speak to something buried in a long distant ancestral memory. Perhaps we find a “home” in a foreign culture that nurtures us in a way we never imagined. Art outside our own cultural language often elicits a palpable and mysterious reaction.

Recently, I had the opportunity to sing the Hebrew prayer Avinu Malkeinu, Our Father, with an interpolated Arabic verse, as an invocation at a multicultural  concert. I am an Anglo-Saxon Protestant who was raised on classical orchestral music and fell in love with opera because it spoke to me with a human voice. These cultures are not my own, nor do they belong to many who were in the audience that evening. In addition, the combination of Hebrew and Arabic is controversial, a bridge that many people are not yet willing to make.

Public Domain Image via Pixabay

Public Domain Image via Pixabay

As I sang, without accompaniment in darkness, I felt the music of the Hebrew and Arabic languages, both of which cry out so beautifully and painfully, carry me to the edge of emotion. I felt the audience meet me in that place. Words fail, but I was the song and it was me, raw and primal. Cultures were fused and transcended, if just for a few minutes, lost in a deep yet hopeful lament for the brokenness of humanity as it reaches out in prayer.

Have you ever allowed art to take you somewhere new? Have you been overwhelmed by emotion in the presence of art or been surprised by it? Have you explored new cultures and understood others better through the arts?