21 Feb 2024

Beyond words: remembering 15 March 2019

From Three to Seven, 4:00 pm on 21 February 2024
Mourners lay flowers and left artwork outside Al Noor mosque the days after the attack

Outside Al Noor Mosque, March 2019. Photo: Supplied

Music can not save us from acts of atrocity, but it can perhaps help us recover from them.

In March, the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra will present three concerts commemorating the fifth anniversary of the Christchurch mosque attacks of 2019.

The concert will bring together musicians from different styles, different cultures, different religions and different continents.

The musician travelling the furthest is the Moroccan singer Oum El Ghaït Ben Essahraoui.

Moroccan singer Oum

Moroccan singer Oum Photo: Amine Chbani

One of the leading exponents of contemporary Moroccan music, Oum's connection with Aotearoa came through her friendship with New Zealand composer John Psathas.

In a concert titled Beyond Words, Oum will join the NZSO with oud player Kyriakos Tapakis, performing her own work along with pieces by Valerie Coleman, Reza Vali, Arvo Pärt and Psathas himself.

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Composer John Psathas Photo: Supplied/ CubaDupa

Speaking with RNZ Concert host Bryan Crump, Oum says it was a "big gift" to be offered a role in such a significant concert.

"I felt really humbled and touched by John's [Psathas'] approach because of the context of this work."

Born in Casablanca, Oum initially studied to become an architect, but the lure of music proved too strong.

"I always had been singing since I was a kid, but not taking it too seriously... I loved [architecture] actually, I spent six wonderful years, but during this time I was already doing gigs."

"I think [music] is not only about wanting to express something. Now that I practice music for years, I believe this is more than a job... I think it's a field where we learn about ourselves as musicians and artists, and the practice of music and of writing and composing gets us more close to who we are, and gets us in front of ourselves. And I'm still learning."

Moroccan singer Oum

Moroccan singer Oum Photo: [https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Oum_02_%28fcm%29.jpg]Frank C. Müller/CC 4.0

In a way, Oum still feels she's an architect. Only now, the building she's creating is her own life.

In the wake of an act of bigoted hatred which took 51 lives, it makes sense that the NZSO should programme a concert which features a diverse collection of artists.

But how does Oum respond to those who see her work to create her own artistic and cultural identity as a threat to theirs?

"I don't know what to say to them, but what I do think is that when we are afraid of someone else... I think we should begin by trying to know and define ourselves and to make peace with who we are, with all that it carries, in history and culture."

"This is who we are and we have to love it. In each one, we see who we are, so when we start not loving the other one, we don't have enough love for ourselves."

The NZSO and Oum will perform three Beyond Words concerts: in Christchurch on 7 March, Wellington on 9 March, and 10 March in Auckland.