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Culture

Bridging the Cultural Divide Through Music

A world music band from Dortmund brings together 15 musicians from 12 nations and shows that combining different styles and traditions can be a musical advantage and a cultural model.

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Ethnoah sees its diversity as its strength

For immigrants, it is often important in their adopted land to have contact with people from their homeland. One way is through associations in which they can meet each other and discuss common interests. Often immigrants band together in music groups, usually to play traditional music from their homeland.

But Dortmund-based Ethnoah is not such a band. It's made up of mostly immigrants, but they come from 12 different nations and each brings a unique musical sensibility and background to the group.

"It is a symbiosis of different mentalities, musical traditions, cultures, tonalities and singing styles," said the group's singer, Margarita Kirchmeier. She is from Kazakhstan and the band's only female member.

"I sing, for example, in nine languages, from Kurdish to Russian to Turkish and so on, even one in Hebrew," she said. "Everything becomes mixed together and what comes out is unique and always new."

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With band members from countries as diverse as Turkey, Morocco, Macedonia and Vietnam, among others, that is no surprise, members say. With their diverse backgrounds come instruments from around the world, including the Balalaika, the Oud, bongos and about 20 others. Dogan Bicer plays the Saz, an instrument from his homeland, Turkey.

"Each of us brings something to the group, our culture, our ideas" he said. "We are amateurs but when we are together, we are professionals. Our differences make us fit together, and that is a philosophy for the entire world, that together we can survive."

A union possible

The band arose out of a project committed to fighting discrimination and violence against foreigners. Cezmi Akturan, a 46-year-old Kurd who works at a cultural center in Dortmund, brought the band to life two years ago.

"Our goal is simply to present music in another way, and to bring together people, to act as ambassadors for different people," he said.

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The most important message is that the peaceful union between many nations is possible. Because many of the musicians of the group look exotic on German streets and speak German with an accent, they have experience with xenophobia and racism. For this reason, they wanted to be part of this group and show that "multicultural" isn't just a word, but a possibility.

Their name, Ethnoah, stems from that idea. It's a combination of the word, ethnic, and the name of the famous ark builder of the Bible, Noah. The band aims to be a musical ship that bridges cultures, band member Bicer said. The musicians say that they want to show that bringing together different musical styles, instruments and folkloric traditions doesn't have to end in catastrophe. Instead, a mix of Russian melancholy, African rhythms and Turkish joyfulness -- with a dash of Vietnamese sangfroid thrown in -- can work together to create something beautiful.

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