FUSING CULTURES – Driss Alaoui Mdaghri – Come to my Home

In this ever changing world, peace and comprehension among nations is at a breaking point. Right wing political movements have sprung up to save the Western world from apocalyptic-like premonitions of socio-economic collapse. News stories pop up on our smart devices and television screens, penetrating our psyche with images of hate and intolerance for fellow human beings. The rhetoric emanating from these sources suggests extreme measures of immigration control, encourages fanatical nationalism and gives hate a platform to grow. In this day and age, the challenge to take a stand against discrimination and promote collaborative thinking instead of creating walls of division seems a futile exercise. Is it really possible to imagine a world without frontiers?

‘Come to my Home’ provides a counterbalance, albeit on a smaller and non-political scale, demonstrating that ‘peace can only be reached through art’. For Driss Alaoui M’daghri, a Moroccan poet, intellectual and former minister who spoke at this year’s Gibraltar Literary Festival, ‘Come to my Home’ is a call for mutual cultural dialogue between musicians, artists, poets and free thinkers from different faiths and backgrounds. The itinerant visual arts, poetry and music festival has had seven editions so far (from Casablanca to Dakar) attracting artists from across the globe. Driss, the founder of the movement, combines the sensibility of an artist, the experience of a troublesome historical period (he was with King Hassan II when bullets started flying during the attempted coup d’état by Skhirat in 1971) and the interest of a politician. Following the incident whereby an attempt was made on the king’s life, Driss said: “I tried to work for peace through the instruments of politics, but then I understood that only art could bring people close to each other.”

Cultural Fusion

But it was in his early years where Driss discovered the ‘unfathomable beauty’ that could be created through the fusion of different backgrounds. Morocco can be described as a ‘mixed salad’ of cultures who can trace their heritage back to diverse sources and it is within this concoction that Driss’ parents allowed a ‘paradise of connectivity’ to flourish. The M’daghri family would welcome all travellers to their home, sharing stories, music, art and, most importantly, ideas on how best to get along with one another, “My own life inspires me to fuse cultures and I have always lived with this philosophy,” he said after reciting poetry accompanied by a serene blend of traditional music in a concert held at the Garrison Library last October. “In particular when I was a student living with my parents in Rabat, my house was always open and I could invite whomever I chose. It was only natural for me to continue this spirit.”

Driss and his family were members of the Moroccan branch of ‘The Experiment in International Living’, an organisation formed in 1932 that offers homestays focussing international cross-cultural education for high school students. His home saw an ever revolving door of travellers pass through and stay from six to eight weeks, immersing themselves in the culture and integrating themselves into the family, “There are still people from England and the United States with whom I still maintain contact. They visited my home over four decades ago! These early influences helped shape my life. Once you are living and behaving like this, you start to understand that all humans work in the same way. After spending enough time together, any cultural differences can become more acceptable.”

Driss keeps up the tradition to this day, often hosting dozens of people under his roof who converse in a multitude of languages about endless subjects of cross-cultural understanding. It was from here that he decided to take the next step and set up a project under the auspices of the NGO, La Fondation des Cultures du Monde, which would incorporate all that he had learned under one collaborative umbrella. His daughter added to the project when she met a Japanese lone female traveller and offered her shelter. She turned out to be exquisite on the ‘koto’, Japan’s national string instrument, and it was not long before she too was roped into the venture, “She was introduced to the family, we ate together and she had her koto with her. The music she played was beautiful and she had a vibrant energy to mix this traditional Japanese instrument with others from around the world, so we asked her to join.”

Come to my Home

The first edition of the ‘Come to my Home’ festival took its form around Casablanca in October 2012 over a ten-day period before making its way up to Marrakech, Bejaad, Lucca, Boskoura, and finally Rome in subsequent years. In each city, different themes were implemented from artists spanning every continent and invited to create music, words, pictures and concepts together. Activities such as cooking workshops, nights spent studying the stars, bird watching, classes for kids to study Indian percussion instruments or painting all came to light. Over the course of the next few years, a permanent orchestra was assembled with Badara Seck, a Senegalese griot singer, at its helm. He called on musicians worldwide to create a universal language unrestrained by cultural differences, styles or genres. Driss believes that, even when a person might not like a particular style of music, if they met someone who played it beautifully, it could be contextualised and appreciated more easily, “When you sense the emotions and connect with them, things are much clearer and you might start enjoying it too. It is possible to access any type of poetry, music or art. You don’t need to understand the language, you just need to open your ears and listen to it.”

‘Come to my Home’ goes as far as to deal with the relations between Europe and the Muslim world, migration, terrorism as well as the meaning of political commitment and the role of the artist in contemporary society. Driss believes that it is only through this sort of medium that a common understanding between nations can be found. There are no frontiers in the arts, especially music. It encourages fusion beyond the melody and a sense of understanding between artists can be a natural occurrence. When the creative juices begin to flow, there is no telling where it can lead you and the consistent artistic liaisons formed during these collaborative sessions remind us what can be achieved when working together. Why then could these trends not also be transmitted into socio-cultural understanding? If fusion is natural within music, art, poetry and ultimately between nations, then why does society create such a division between mankind? These are the questions being asked by this progressive movement, but they are age-old remarks that still remain unanswered in today’s world.