This video goes into the project of the very talented Merlijn Twaalhoven, a very unorthodox composer that is breaking the boundaries of not only country lines but the actual idea of traditional music in every sense of the word.

“What picture comes to mind at the moment when you hear the word Ramallah or Jerusalem?” Merlijn Twaalfhoven asks, “What association do you have?”

I myself have never been to Jerusalem, so the images that the media has fed me, whirl past. Violence, attacks, grief… These depressed associations are replaced immediately by a completely different one, when I see pictures of the Al Quds Underground Festival, initiated by the Dutch music composer Merlijn Twaalfhoven.

Merlijn Twaalfhoven, 35, is an unusual composer. He is a cultural entrepreneur. Convinced that art can bring people closer to reality and therefore have more understanding towards one another, he likes to connect art and society. He often works in places where large social differences lead to tensions and conflict. In the divided Cyprus, for example, he organized a concert with 400 Turkish and Greek musicians, in a Slovak gypsy ghetto he organized a festival, made music with Palestinians and Israelis and initiated the brilliant Al Quds Underground Festival. Wherever his projects are located, Twaalfhoven wants to communicate with his audience and make a connection with the people. And even from a distance, just looking at some photo and film footage, that’s exacly what I feel, connected.

This festival takes you as an audience member through the living rooms of private houses and hidden stages where artist and viewer can connect intimately in occupied East Jerusalem. Dutch and local artists create music, art, and theater and are engaged in a dialogue about universal themes, which-if only for a moment- transcends the misconceptions of the day. Political, religious, and nationalist symbolism that often is fenced within the media, give way to direct and intimate contact between people from different cultural backgrounds.

In the city that, for centuries, has been ground of a conflict that keeps the world in its grip, Merlijn shows a warm and vibrant part of Jerusalem. A part with room for contact and expression. Where people find each other and tell stories. “I like to be human” a Palestinian musician from the Al Quds Jerusalem Underground Festival says, “just somebody who plays the guitar, from Palestine,”. But the conflict is long forgotten, I now realize. The pity is nowhere to be found. The depressed images I had before are completely out of sight. I am looking, inspired and enthusiastic, at people who are performing art and theatre with immense passion. Just like the guitar player has wished for.

The Unesco (or the United Nations Education Scientific and Cultural Organization) recently crowned Merlijn Twaalfhoven as “Young Artist for Intercultural Dialogue Between the Arab and Western worlds,”.  It was no surprise to me. In 2008, we were both invited to a show that was about building bridges between art and helping to make this world a better place. He had just completed the musical project “Carried by the Wind”. I remember that his inventiveness and modesty made a deep impression on me. His project was so simple and yet so complicated, like all his projects. In Bethlehem he established musicians on rooftops on both sides of the Israeli separation wall. Each with the task to contribute to a part of the special composition written by Twaalfhoven. Sometimes they would find their instruments in the streets, on a garbache belt or just in their own kitchen. Different sounds, carried by the wind to the other side of the wall, symbolized the hope for a future without fear and walls and embracing the unity of their differences.

The reaction of people around was something that you cannot put in a composition. He proved that art and music can do something that politicians and social workers have been working on for years; it brought people together, got them to interact and see each other not as this objective enemy, but as a neighbor, as a fellow human being.
“Art pays attention to the beauty of the little everyday things of life.” Merlijn says. And that’s what we all want, right?