Asma Ghanem had come to America only once before, when she was very young.
Now the electronic musician and sound artist from Palestine is back stateside with OneBeat, an organization that’s part of the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and brings together various musicians from around the world.
Ghanem is one of 25 global musicians who are spending the next couple of weeks collaborating, creating and performing as part of 2017’s OneBeat fellowship.
“I’ve never had such an experience before with such talented people from all over,” Ghanem said. “There’s a lot of things to hear, a lot of stories and recordings. It’s very inspiring, and this is one of the best experiences I’ve had.”
Each year the program, now back for the seventh time, chooses 25 applicants and brings them together to compose original music, perform that music on a mini tour, collaborate with local musicians and lead youth workshops to share their music with others.
OneBeat will be in Jackson on Friday to meet the public, take part in interactive installations and perform at the Center for the Arts. This is the first time Jackson has been chosen as one of the OneBeat tour stops.
Residents for this year’s program span the globe, coming from Belarus, Indonesia, Brazil and South Africa, just to name a few countries. The styles vary greatly. Ghanem is an electronic artist. Others are singer/songwriters, hip-hop artists, accordion players, violinists, bassists, guitar players and more.
It makes for an eclectic and inspiring group.
“I don’t consider myself a musician,” Ghanem said. “I’m an artist, but I work on sound art and experimental music. I’ve never had a musical experience or background.
“It’s useful for me to listen and learn from musicians and how to compose the whole things.”
Omma — Olga Maximova — is a DJ from Moscow who said the experience has been similar for her.
“It’s crazy. Everyone is so different. It’s amazing how everyone is so kind and so energetically positive — you’re really taking in that energy,” Maximova said. “For this two weeks we didn’t have any conflict with anyone. We’re in the same house, go into the same building every day with the same people.”
For Maximova the residency is a chance to grow as an artist, something she hasn’t had time to do in the past year. She said this residency has taught her how to compose quickly, as well as work with real instruments instead of a computer.
“I’ve learned how to listen to people,” she said. “I really like to conduct and to produce. I play piano, but I don’t have instruments. I play synths, but I’m producing everything. For me it was interesting to produce and conduct it in real life.”
OneBeat is a chance for the participants to learn and grow, but the focus is to bring cultures and nationalities together under the banner of music, and share that with America.
“It is a chance for adventurous musicians from an incredible diversity of traditions to seek common ground, create new musical combinations, push the boundaries of music technology and find ways to involve all members of society in the process of musical creativity,” the website states. “OneBeat endeavors to be the nexus of a new way of thinking about how music can help us collectively build healthy communities, prosperous societies and a more peaceful world.”
Ghanem said that being in the States has affected the way she views both the world and her life.
“On our side of the world we have that stereotype about Americans. We thought they weren’t nice or they don’t like us or something,” Ghanem said. “But I think everything about it was all wrong, and people are very professional here and appreciate what you do and who you are.”
She said that it’s challenging to be an artist in Palestine, where daily life is made difficult by politics and conflict.
“It’s hard to live my situation and make art as well,” she said. “It’s very complicated. Your daily life already has a lot of suffering, with checkpoints and all of that, only to record or do simple stuff like I’m doing in the U.S.
“It’s sad when I think about it, but I’m glad I’m experiencing something else,” she said. “I hope that one day we can live like anybody else and I can produce my music like anyone else.” ￼