The Humanist: Yuval Ron brings the Middle East to New Haven

ARTS & IDEAS: When Yuval Ron was 17 years old, he ventured out from his home in Israel into the Sanai Desert with a guitar. There he met the Bedouin, a nomadic people with a distinct musical tradition.

“I played music with them and they embraced me, because I could play the guitar, and they could play the oud, which I play now,” Ron says from his Los Angeles studio. “They are tribal from this remote desert. My connection to them was through appreciating their music, but that made me appreciate them as a culture, as a people. It made me realize that culture and people and environment are one in the same. If you mistreat the people or the environment, you lose the culture.”

Ron has been playing sacred and folkloric music from the Middle East with his ensemble for 12 years. On June 28, the Yuval Ron Ensemble will perform a sold-out performance at Morse Recital Hall on College Street. On June 29, the group will perform a free concert of upbeat dance songs from the Middle East on the New Haven Green.

The members of the group and the songs they perform are as diverse as the region itself. Growing up in the conflict-torn region as an Israeli, Ron said he was raised with one specific nationalistic and religious perspective. His music is in part a reaction to that, and Ron says he deliberately tries to transcend national borders and what he calls “artificial” divisions.

“The music that I do does represent a global perspective, but it starts with a regional perspective: a Middle Eastern perspective, which is where we are from. We embrace all the beauty in that region,” Ron says. “The perspective that I have is more humanistic than nationalistic. I am interested in using the information and research I do to bring out the human expression from both sides of the border to point out their commonality, and to show their commonality across borderlines is greater than the things that separate them.”

For Ron, this was a radical realization that he came to at the end of his teenage years.

“I can tell you that growing up in Israel, each side of the divide has a different narrative of what happened—not just in the last 30 years or 50 years—in the last 200 years, even 500 years. So it’s a very complex issue and when you grow up,

you only hear one side of the story,” Ron says. “I didn’t have any Arabic friends, any Christian friends, any Muslim friends. I didn’t meet anybody who was any different from me. I was 19 or 20 when I started meeting people who have a different heritage, a different narrative from mine.”

When asked if there are parallels between U.S. society and the Middle East, Ron says the most striking similarity is the opportunity for cultural cross-pollination.

“The U.S. is a melting pot as well. They are very similar societies here in the U.S. and in Israel. There is no other country on earth with so many people from different countries and religions living side-by-side than in the U.S. and Israel, and any time you have that meeting of cultures you have an opportunity for combinations and fusions of music. In the States, look at jazz, it is a fusion of different cultures that clashed and met in the U.S. Jazz didn’t happen in Africa, it happened in the U.S. with African roots mating with Celtic roots and German roots.”


IF YOU GO: What: The Yuval Ron Ensemble When: Noon, June 29 Where: the New Haven Green Tickets: Free Info:

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