Israel and Palestine



26th September to 1st October 2010

Shows : "La Baronnade" and "Fanfare tout terrain"

The person in charge of the Bat Yam festival (Atay Citron) had come to see us perform at the « La strada » festival in Graz, Austria. From the start we had sensed that this tour would be very different: at the first meeting, our Algerian singer refused to shake his hand and declared that she would never set foot in Israel...

A little later, another member of the Company refused to take part in the tour, stating that he would have nothing to do with countries with blood on their hands....

The tour finally went ahead in any case, with a replacement musician and another singer who we found in Israel. We sent her the musical scores and recordings so she could prepare in advance.

We were determined not to play only in Israel and the director of the Bat Yam festival found us some contacts in Palestine; so it was that we were able to perform three days in Israel and 2 days in Palestine.


ISRAEL : 26th to 28th September 2010

Getting to Israel on time was an adventure in itself: we were performing in Gien in the Loire Valley on the 20th September at 8 o'clock in the evening and we were programmed to play in Bat Yam at 6 o'clock on the 26th...Luckily there were no hold-ups and a welcome committee was at the airport to take us straight to Bat Yam.

Bat Yam is a seaside resort not far from Tel Aviv (just past Jaffa). It's quite a poor town and the authorities decided to organise a festival in order to give the local population something different. Lots of working class Jews of Russian origin have settled here.

As soon as we arrived we had to jump into our costumes and begin playing despite our fatigue. We had just enough time for a short rehearsal with our new female singer before starting. And our male singer promptly lost his voice and only recovered it on the last day of the tour!!

So we had to do the show without him and his acting talents...

The audience was great during the whole of the festival: incredible fervour, very warm, and a real desire to have fun. We could tell that they knew their opera; they sang along with the arias and got excited every time our Israeli opera singer came to the fore. We had made a special arrangement of an aria from Carmen which is very well known in Israel, and this was very warmly received.

Even our singer (Karin Shifrin) got carried away and declared "I've sung with some big names in my career, notably Zubin Mehta. But what I've done here with the Grooms has been my best work.." She was used to singing to audiences sitting far away in the dark, and here she found herself surrounded by her fervent admirers. And the emotion was almost too much for her...

Despite the heat and our heavy costumes, we felt energised by the audiences during the whole festival. And the very best came in the last show, where the audience was almost delirious!!!

Not all the groups were as lucky as us: those who had more complicated technical needs found it difficult, since the festival wasn't terribly well organised on this score. Since the only thing we needed was a playing space with good acoustic qualities (not always easy to find) we had no technical difficulties.

It's worth noting that despite the impression given by the French media, we didn't feel any sense of insecurity or tensions. The majority of Israelis don't seem that interested by the political conflicts; and seem to eat pork and spend lots of time partying in bars!!! Our version of a song by the famous Egyptian Muslim singer Oum Kalsoum was paradoxically one of the best received!!!

On the last day of the festival there was a big party organised, which finished on the beach in the early hours of the morning...


PALESTINE : 30th September et 1st 0ctober 2010

The director of the French Cultural Institute in Gaza, Jean Mathiot, had put together a whole mini-tour for us. Unfortunately we weren't even able to meet him since he was forbidden by the Israeli authorities to leave Gaza...

So another person became our guide for the whole trip, Anthony Bruno from the French Cultural Institute in Jerusalem, and he turned out to be friendly and efficient. Jerusalem is the only city in the world to have 2 French Cultural Institutes: one on the Israeli side and the other on the Palestinian side. And of course they aren't very fond of each other!!!

We stayed in the magnificent Jerusalem YMCA perched high up in the town.

Our first performance took place in east Jerusalem, in the old town. The atmosphere was very different from that in Bat Yam since the audience wasn't prepared for us to be there. Leaving the cultural institute, we wound our way in walkabout performance mode through narrow streets before arriving at the city walls. Nobody really understood what we were doing there and the audience was thin on the ground. Most of the spectators were Palestinian children. Our tuba player /contortionist had to dress in trousers rather than a skirt so as not to shock the locals. And the officials from the cultural centre had asked us several times to be sure not to linger in certain places for security reasons...Our walkabout show ended up in a care centre for mentally disabled people in the upper part of the city. We gave a short concert in a place that the Israelis wanted to take back from the Palestinians (therefore a very symbolic place). To finish up, children from the centre gave us presents and there was an impromptu jam session with the Palestinians.

It was only at the end of the performance that we learnt that the situation in the area was very tense, that there had been a murder in the week before our arrival, and that the actors from the group Les Padox had been attacked during a performance some months before. Israeli settlers had been taking over Palestinian houses, which were then guarded night and day by heavily armed soldiers. And we had been performing just in front of one of those houses without realising it. Not surprising that the atmosphere had been less than relaxed!!!

The day after, we went to the Aïda refugee camp which had been set up in 1948. This camp is situated in Bethlehem, just on the other side of the wall (the 500km wall set up to separate the Israelis from the Paletinians). On this occasion too, it was an official from the French Alliance in Bethlehem who had acted as go-between. First of all, we watched a dance performance by a group of adolescents, then we did some walk-about performance in the camp (which suffers from 70% unemployment). The audience was larger and in a more festive mood than the previous evening. We were able to go into residential areas to serenade and to improvise in the shops, and more than a hundred people (mainly children) were able to see the show. During our walk-about, the children became more and more boisterous, throwing pebbles at the instruments, and balls into the bell of the tuba!!!

Sadly, I've learned over the years that sometimes music isn't very useful...

When people don't have anything, they don't necessarily want to listen to music. Music can't save the world as some people naively think. And in fact only the kids seemed really interested in our music. The adults had other priorities.

The thing that shocked us the most was the contrast between the rich Jerusalem which has fun 24 hours a day, and the Palestinian part, only a few kilometres away, which has so many troubles. To go to the Holocaust Memorial at Yad Vashem in the morning and then in the afternoon to perform in a Palestinian refugee camp after having passed through checkpoints, barbed wire and filthy wasteland is difficult to take...

We'd like to thank SPEDIDAM for their financial help without which the tour wouldn't have happened. We'd also like to thank Ati Citron, Anthony Bruno and Patrick Girard. We were very happy to have been able to visit both Israel and Palestine in order to begin to understand this part of the world.

The Palestianian part of the tour was the most difficult artistically, but also the most instructive.


Go to the slide show