It was simply a lunchtime concert, in celebration of Daniel Pearl World Music Day. And yet, as I left the U.S. Embassy, I felt the proverbial lump in my throat.
OK, so I get emotional these days. When a woman called Anna (who has what Public Affairs Officer Joshua Polacheck called a “sultry” voice) started the first lines of “Bridge Over Troubled Water” my eyes started to burn. This was a passionate version of the 1970 Paul Simon classic, very appropriate for the occasion.
But who were these women, and who was Daniel Pearl?
Let us start with Daniel. He was a Jewish American journalist who worked for the Wall Street Journal. He was kidnapped by a militant group in Pakistan in February 2002 – just a few months after 9/11. Despite pleas for his release, he was killed (in the most barbaric way) nine days later and the video of his murder was circulated on the Internet. The world was deeply shocked.
Daniel’s tragic death is well-known. Agonizingly, it has been followed by the murders of many other innocent people (including journalists) by extremist groups. But his widow Mariane wanted him to be remembered as a kind and gentle man who loved music (he played the violin with various bands) and believed in peace (Mariane was pregnant and gave birth to their son, Adam Daniel Pearl, four months after his father’s murder). The Daniel Pearl Foundation (at http://www.danielpearl.org) was set up by his parent in his memory – “to promote cross-cultural dialogue and understanding, to counter cultural and religious intolerance, to cultivate responsible and balanced journalism, and to inspire unity and friendship through music.”
One of the initiatives of the Daniel Pearl Foundation was the Daniel Pearl World Music Day. Now in its fourteenth year, it has created an international network of annual concerts celebrating our common humanity. We all know, instinctively and in our hearts, that music brings us together. Since the inception of this special day, the World Music Day concerts have numbered approximately 13,300 in 129 countries.
So this is what we were doing at the U.S. Embassy last week. And with three terrific Jamaican singers, all women.
There was Sabrina, who had a clear and sweet voice and a delicate presence on stage. The talented Anna impressed us all with her towering hairstyle and her powerful voice, as she approached the stage from the aisle.
Then the star of the show appeared, to whoops of delight in the audience. Some women, clearly great fans, felt a little restrained by their surroundings so danced in, or half out of, their seats. This was Tanya Stephens, who sang, rapped, laughed and talked her way through a well-constructed set with a tight three-piece band. “Peace can start with the ladies, right?” she said, and the ladies (and men) agreed. In fact, we were in agreement with everything she said and did. The U.S. Ambassador Luis Moreno and his wife, in the front row, were nodding and tapping their feet like crazy.
Ms. Stephens has a natural warmth and empathy that is hard to describe, although with her trademark dark glasses one doesn’t exactly make eye contact. Her broad smile and frequent laughter make an instant connection however. Her performance seemed effortless (although I am sure it is not) as she moved from roots reggae to dancehall style to something just plain soulful. She was dressed in black, with a T shirt that said “Ass kicking’” and boots with metallic straps. It was only when she turned round that we saw “F… yeah!” emblazoned across her hips. That’s Tanya.
“Let’s big up Daniel,” said Ms. Stephens. “He made a sacrifice – yes, a sacrifice for us.” He stood for peace, and for freedom of speech, she said, “So let’s channel peace around the world. Aren’t we tired of the animosity?”
Yes, we are. This was Tanya again, as her performance drew to an end: “Right now we have peace among us. Right?” Right, we did. We all smiled.
“We need to just live,” added Tanya. So, we must try to live in peace and love. The world is still a cruel and intolerant place, but in Daniel Pearl’s memory, we must believe in the values he embraced. Otherwise, life is simply not worth living, is it.
We need to just live.