Culture unites people from around the world and can give them hope and inspiration.
In January, I played in the Kennedy Center Orchestra in the US debut of a new symphony entitled Hannibal Barca. We played to a full house of over 1,000 people!
The Embassy of Tunisia and the Tunisian Ministry of Culture hosted this momentous event, which commemorated the one-year anniversary of their country’s Revolution. Also known as the Jasmine Revolution, this triggered the unrest in many parts of the Middle East in the movement known as Arab Spring.
Written by Jaloul Ayed, the former Tunisian Minister of Finance, this symphony pays homage to the composer’s military hero Hannibal Barca. It also honors Mohammed Bouazizi, the young fruit vendor who set himself on fire in public one year ago. Both of these men have significant places in history… and both were from Tunisia.
One of history’s greatest military figures, Hannibal Barca was born in the third century B.C. He marched with 40 elephants and 80,000 warriors from Carthage into Rome across the Pyrenees and Alps. He defeated a much larger army and captured Italy for 15 years.
Bouazizi’s ultimate sacrifice showed his abject frustration with the system in Tunisia and inspired his fellow citizens to overthrow the government. This became the Tunisian Revolution and paved the way for other countries to also fight for freedom and happiness.
Conductor Jean-Charles Biondi led the Kennedy Center Orchestra of visiting Tunisian musicians who shared the stage with US performers like me. Although the friendship between our countries goes back more than two centuries, most of the performers from each country did not share a language, religion or background with their counterparts. We communicated through music, and we supported each other to play our best and in harmony.
At the end of the three movements, The Pride of Carthage, The Long Crossing, and The Glorious March, I was in tears as were many of my fellow musicians. The audience rose to their feet in tribute.
I have performed all around the world and for the most part, I enjoyed performing various types of music and pieces for a wide variety of audiences, but the concert in January was the first time culture greatly inspired me. Culture has the power to bridge the gap between people with varied backgrounds by helping people find commonalities and inspire and give hope to people in despair.