CLEVELAND, Tenn. — San Francisco's Qadim Ensemble brought a taste of Middle Eastern folkloric and sacred music — and a message of peace and compassion — to Cleveland State Community College on Wednesday.
The quartet, led by multi-instrumentalist Eliyahu Sills, played to an enthusiastic crowd of about 100 listeners of all ages at the college's George R. Johnson Cultural Heritage Center. The group played songs in several musical traditions, including Palestinian, Arabic, Jewish and Iranian, and its repertoire encompassed themes of religion, love and dance.
The group's first name -- Qadim -- translates as both "ancient" and "that which will come," Sills explained before the performance.
"I ended up falling in love with Turkish, Arabic and Jewish music of [the Middle East]," said Sills, who drew early inspiration from the generational melodies kept alive by his family during Passover. "It's beautiful to make music from different cultures."
The band's existence and performances are a way to keep some musical traditions from disappearing, said Naser Musa, who played the oud, the ancient stringed forebear of the lute of Middle Ages Europe.
The group, which draws upon a community of West Coast Middle Eastern musicians, also takes its strength from the differences and similarities of members' backgrounds, Sills said. The current members of Qadim Ensemble described themselves as being in a musical marriage of different faiths and cultures, including Jewish, Palestinian Christian and a "searching Muslim."
After the performance, group members shared some of their personal philosophies with the audience.
"We have to live together," said Musa, whose family immigrated to the United States after they lost their home in Palestine in 1948. "It's a must, not a choice."
Their shared love of Middle Eastern music creates a living bond, the musicians said.
Curiosity about Middle Eastern music brought many audience members to see the performance.
"I'm very interested in cultural diversity," said Jaynae Wright, a sixth-grader at Tennessee Christian Preparatory School who attended the event with her history class.
Her class recently studied Middle Eastern cultures, and this event seemed like a great way for them to experience a part of it up close, said Brad Davis, Wright's history teacher.
Cleveland State students Cory Price and Brianna Higdon said they did not know what to expect from the event, but they praised the musicianship of the ensemble.
The school invited Qadim Ensemble to play as a way to help give some local exposure to Middle Eastern culture and to give it a face, said Andy Foskey, a Cleveland State librarian.
The program was provided in conjunction with the Bridging Cultures Bookshelf: Muslim Journeys Grant. That grant is a project of the National Endowment for the Humanities in cooperation with the American Library Association.