Only Connect: Syrian Dreams in the Cuckmere Valley

36125D8F-BC60-4C28-AB22-FD8670B37084.jpegLast night at the Lapwing Festival I watched and listened to the Syrian musician Maya Youssef play a piece of music called Syrian Dreams, which she wrote after watching the news with her young son asleep on her lap in London, seeing a child of the same age in a war zone familiar to her from home, who had died. It’s a piece that expresses both sadness and hope, and special in itself, but seeing it in that location was extraordinary. The sides of the tent were open, the breeze was on our faces, there were flaming torches to keep us warm and beyond that was the Cuckmere Valley with the chalk faces of the Seven Sisters looking out to sea. It’s one of the great views of the world, expressed in art of all kinds many times, and it has come to represent a certain kind of idyllic Englishness. There were certainly people in the audience who had grown up with or aspired to that ideal. But last night, migrating geese were passing and calling as Maya played, bringing their life and energy from elsewhere in the world. The cliffs were a reminder that although we like to think this time and place is all there ever was or will be, they’ve been both present and continually changing as the sea washes up against them for centuries. For millennia, actually. Heading that gorgeous, profound music that comes from both here and there, seeing that landscape that is both ancient and always changing, I thought about the ways we define ourselves and our borders against the Other, whatever we perceive it to be. And in that moment, in that time and place of connection and humanity and beauty and resonance, all our borders seemed to dissolve and there was no them, just us. One moment doesn’t seem enough. I wish we could live like that all the time, the world would be a better place if we could only connect.

Here’s the piece, have a listen. If you’d like to hear the podcast about the festival I made with Emily Jeffery it’s at http://www.edgeofengland.com or on iTunes as Edge of England, episode four.

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