Winter, Art, and Hope

As New Yorkers we are quick to jump into action when the heat in our apartments unexpectedly turns off or the water won't get any warmer. As New Yorkers we are also adept at becoming active to help someone in need. While we are able to look the other way in, say, the subway, we know, for the most part, when we need to drop our guard. As New Yorkers we are also willing to rally for a cause, especially during this time when civic engagement is a good way to channel simmering (or burning) frustrations.

So here's a wonderfully timely proposition for how to channel our own experience of a winter's harsh conditions, our ability to step out of our comfort zones, and our willingness to take action. This Saturday evening, January 28, you have the chance to experience preeminent artists perform in an intimate setting at Mana Contemporary, and help an urgent cause that seems to defy a solution anytime soon: helping Syrian refugees in camps in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley. Those in the know agree that Syrian opera singer Lubana Al Quntar is a legend. And, yes, she will perform with musicians from the New York Arabic Orchestra, with Eylem Basaldi playing the violin and April Centrone on oud and percussion.

Winter - Millions of Syrians were forced forced to leave their homes during the brutal and seemingly never-ending civil war. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), 4.8 million have fled to Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt and Iraq, and 6.6 million are internally displaced within Syria. Most found themselves in refugee camps. Many of these camps were initially set up several years ago, and already have transformed into quasi-cities with their own self-initiated economies.

Other camps are much less fortunate, including one particularly isolated camp in the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon, located about 19 miles east of Beirut. It is situated between Mount Lebanon to the west and "Anti-Lebanon" mountain range to the east. This camp resides within an isolated part of mid-Bekaa, close to the Syrian border, and being out of the way, it not only receives little to no aid and outside assistance, but is also hidden from any media awareness.

That's where Nisreen Nasser steps in. Last year Nisreen co-founded the grassroots charitable initiative "Solidarity Through Humanity," with a deep-rooted belief in the power of empathy and compassion to connect with and provide aid to people around the globe who've been displaced due to war or poverty. The Bekaa Valley is known for its treacherous winters, and many living in this camp, mostly young children, have needlessly and senselessly passed away due to extreme weather conditions this season. Without fuel, families often resort to burning shoes and garbage to produce heat, resulting in the production of toxic fumes, and making a seemingly impossible situation even worse.

Art - Lubana Al Quntar, the revered Syrian opera singer joins forces with "Solidarity Through Humanity," together with the New York Arabic Orchestra, Eylem Basaldi, and April Centrone. The voice is a dramatic instrument capable of producing emotional transcendence. The locus of transition, voice mediates feeling from the body of the performer to the body of the listener. Lubana Al Quntar's art delivers emotion and is able to reach even those who are not easily enthralled. She is an acclaimed Syrian vocalist of both opera and traditional Arabic song, and became the first Syrian opera singer to attain international recognition. Her achievements include heading the Department of Opera Singing and founding the Department of Classical Arabic Singing at the Syrian National Conservatory. This was a groundbreaking event because, for the first time, students could study both operatic and traditional singing at an accredited institution. Moreover, she also established the Arabic Music Singing Ensemble, which performed across the Middle East. After the outbreak of the war in Syria she came to the United States in 2012.

Hope - The evening will include remarks from "Solidarity Through Humanity" founder Nisreen Nasser, who will be present at the event via Skype from Lebanon. The audience will also hear from Issam Khoury, a respected journalist and political activist from Syria with more than 15 years of experience in writing and conducting research in politics, governance, Islamic groups, human rights, arts, and culture for major news outlets in the Middle East and North Africa. Whether focused on war zones or refugees crossing borders for safety, his writing always focuses on telling the truth, which has often brought him into face-to-face confrontation with those opposing freedom of expression and the press in the Middle East. As a disruptor, and the first journalist to report on the revolution while still in Syria, Khoury has been arrested, had his novels banned, and his travel restricted.

Our help and compassion can mean the difference between life and death for the around 600 people in the Beqaa Valley camp. The refugees living in this camp report that they feel isolated and forgotten. Let's give them hope, show them that they are not alone, that we see them, we stand with them. Come on Saturday, donate to the cause, and enjoy the performance. Do so because we all emphatically agree that art is the highest form of hope.

Saturday, January 28, 2017, 7-11PM
Mana Contemporary, 888 Newark Avenue, Jersey City, NJ