Musical Ensemble Tackles Islamophobic Policy

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The Aswat Ensemble, established 18 years ago in the Bay Area, has evolved from a musical introduction to the Arab world to a resistance against the Muslim ban.

The ensemble will be performing its “Notes Against the Ban: A Musical Response from the Seven Banned Countries” on Nov. 11 at 7 p.m. at Peace United Church of Christ in Santa Cruz, accompanied by the Redwood Chamber Choir and World Harmony Chorus.

Aswat is spearheaded by choir producer and Palestinian immigrant Nabila Mango and sponsored by nonprofit organization Zawaya. Named for the word meaning “voices” in Arabic, the ensemble pairs traditional Arab instruments with a demographically diverse choir to fight Islamophobia in the U.S. through contemporary and folkloric music.

The performance features music from Libya, Sudan, Somalia, Syria, Iraq, Iran and Yemen, all countries from which immigration into the U.S. is banned under Executive Order 13769, commonly known as the Muslim ban.

The performance serves as a counternarrative to Islamophobia and  exclusion of marginalized groups from the U.S.

“The concert is an act of empathy, it’s an act of resistance and an act of empathy for those whose circumstances have prevented them from experiencing the beauty of the diversity of this work,” Mango said.

The Muslim ban was signed into effect by President Donald Trump on Jan. 27, one week after his inauguration. The ban affected seven Muslim-majority countries until March 6, when Trump signed Executive Order 13780.This replaces the initial ban and affects the same seven countries, limiting the number of refugees entering the country to 45,000, less than half of the 110,000 cap put in place in 2016 by the Obama administration.

This will be the first performance of the ongoing series in Santa Cruz, with two previous performances earlier this year taking place in Oakland and San Francisco.

“There’s definitely a need always on the planet for people to connect,” said artistic director of the Santa Cruz Redwood Chamber Crista Berryessa. “As different generations get older some of those needs become greater. For anyone who is interested in the culture of these seven nations, music is a great way to get a flavor and a feeling of the people and their experiences.