Gaza music school shines in 'Arabs Got Talent' spotlight

Sun Feb 1, 2015 9:50am EST
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By Nidal al-Mughrabi

GAZA (Reuters) - On the hugely popular "Arabs Got Talent" TV show in Beirut last month, five young musicians in checkered black-and-white scarves brought the house down with a traditional Arabic song that left the judges weeping and earned a ticket straight to the finals.

In the Gaza Strip there was much weeping and celebration too, especially at the Edward Said National Conservatory of Music, where the group, made up of four boys and a girl aged between 12 and 16, learned to play their instruments.

For the past three years, Anas an-Najar, a teacher at the conservatory, has dedicated himself to the band, honing their skills on the zither, lute, drum and wooden flute, while the fifth member sings in soaring, lilting melodies.

Because they will perform live on the finals show on Feb. 28, Saudi-owned broadcaster MBC has asked them not to speak to the media. But their success -- a YouTube video of their performance has been watched more than 8.7 million times -- has drawn the school where they practise into the spotlight.

Occupying a single floor of a non-descript building owned by the Palestinian Red Crescent Society in Tel al-Hawa, a middle class neighborhood of Gaza city, the conservatory would barely pass notice from the outside.

On the inside, the walls are lined with posters of Arab and Western musicians -- Tchaikovsky next to Kamal Al Taweel, a renowned Egyptian composer -- and the classrooms are a hive of activity as dozens of students are put through their paces.

Started in 2008 as a project of the AM Qattan Foundation, which runs cultural programs in the Arab world, the school was taken over by the Edward Said National Conservatory in 2012, becoming its fifth branch in the Palestinian territories.

Despite three wars in six years and a blockade imposed by Egypt and Israel, playing music has steadily gained popularity in Gaza, serving as an outlet in times of hardship.   Continued...