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'The Secret Handshake' on tour

Heike Mund / rfNovember 20, 2015

The political situation between their home countries is tense, but that didn't stop an Iranian and an Israeli band from jamming together. Now the musicians are joining forces on tour in Germany.

The Secret Handshake Tour
Image: Olli Waldhauer

In itself, the virtual project "The Secret Handshake" - for which the two bands initiated a net-based crowd funding campaign - could have landed the Iranian indie rockers who call themselves Langtunes in jail. The four musicians live and work in the Iranian capital Teheran, where producing or publically performing Western music remains an offence punishable by law. Thus the band can only tour abroad. In 2012 they briefly toured in Germany and stopped in the Turkish city of Istanbul. But their fans have long since found them online and enjoy their rocking indie flavor with English texts and guitar riffs. Their sound could be described as global rock music.

Together with the Israeli band Ramzailech, Langtunes recently launched an exceptional concert tour, starting in Leipzig and moving on to Hamburg (November 19) and Berlin (November 22) before winding up in Frankfurt on December 3. The two bands are playing a total of thirteen concerts, each a stepping stone in the peace project they call "The Secret Handshake." Co-written songs are not (yet) part of the act, but the musicians say they are considering that. At this point, Ramzailech and Langtunes share the stage and their audiences.

Ramzailech Israel Band
Klezmer band Ramzailech builds musical bridgesImage: picture-alliance/dpa/K. Grzesiak/PARVENUE Records/

Ramzailech is a source of "hard core klezmer," and the yiddish texts with a daring mix of traditional Jewish klezmer music, punk and rock 'n' roll are well received. "There was much, much dancing," says tour manager Elnaz Amiraslani. Both bands play fast, Oriental and virtuosic. German audiences love it. How did the Yiddish band name come about? In Hebrew, one writes from right to left, so it's entirely possible for the Yiddish word "klezmer" to be read backwards sometimes. Add a couple of typos, and "Ramzailech" is the result.

Secret handshake of friendship

A meeting of the peoples via music rather than political confrontation is the musicians' notion. They hope their concerts will serve as an impetus for a more peaceful interaction - not only between their respective homelands, which are bitter enemies. As recently as August 2015, the Iranian Ministry of Culture brusquely cancelled a concert scheduled to be conducted in Teheran by Daniel Barenboim, a citizen of Israel, declaring that it would "not collaborate with Israeli artists." The musicians of Langtunes take a different stance. "From the beginning, we were an underground band which means you have to break some rules," lead singer Behrooz explained to DW.

Musically, the two bands hail from utterly different worlds and fan cultures - but both are from the Middle East. That's what brings them together, said Behrooz: "Apart from our religion, we're not all that different. I'd say we have much more in common than we do with the Germans, for example." Both bands consider themselves global artists who just want to have fun together, he adds: "Our connection is purely musical and cultural. We don't see any political content in it."

Open to musical exchange

Band Langtunes
The Iranian musicians of LangtunesImage: Parvenue Records

On stage, the two bands work astonishingly well together, reported project manager Elmaz Almiraslani after the concert in Leipzig. Coming from Iran, she organizes the intercultural concert tour and heads a music label in Germany, having invited Langtunes to the country for its first professional production. The release, in late 2014, would have been impossible back home. "There are cultural authorities in Iran," explained Almiraslani, "which you have to ask for approval for nearly any public activity, be it concert appearances, studio booking or CD production."

Peace tour of Germany

In 2014, Israeli klezmer band Ramzailech happened to be touring Germany. Meeting backstage at a festival in Nuremberg, the musicians exchanged their views on the world. An idea was born, one of greater peace and understanding. "We asked ourselves: why not combine our activities, make a statement and link our cultures rather than fomenting antagonism?" says Amiraslani.

Ramzailech's members soon became aware of the risk their Iranian colleagues were taking, observed singer Gal Klein. "As far as we're concerned, we'd call off the tour immediately if we had to. Each person's safety is paramount. We don't talk about this in Israel and keep a low profile." But Langtunes' singer Beeroz sees less of a problem: "With us, that doesn't matter. As long as we can make music, we have to come to terms with the consequences. Sure, we're afraid, but clearly that doesn't stop us from giving concerts."

Musikband Ramzailech
Ramzailech give everything they've got onstageImage: Hans-Joachim Winckler

Interest in the crowd funding project

The greatest obstacle was money of course. The musicians had to fund travel, accommodations and stage technology in Germany. The musicians from Iran couldn't just check in at Teheran Airport with equipment and instruments. At an estimated cost of 30,000 euros, the hastily-mounted crowd funding initiative met with lively interest in the online community. Still, not enough contributors and sponsors were willing to commit, said tour manager Elnaz Amiraslani, somewhat disappointed. The bands had to cover the travel costs on their own.

But that didn't stop them from going through with their tour. "Our connection is purely musical and cultural. We don't see anything political in it," says singer Behrooz. "We're rock'n'rollers, and we can't stop just because we're scared." The online campaign on Indiegogo.com, a crowd funding platform, will generate intercultural dialogue on a different level. Contributors can opt for free concert tickets, an Israeli-Iranian evening of cooking or a personal appearance by the musicians at home.