An interview with musician Andy Busuttil…

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  1. Andy Busuttil is a highly sought-after musician and recording producer based in the Blue Mountains. After listening to a recent CD recording involving Andy, LMNC Manager, Peta Williams, invited Andy to respond to some of her questions. Here is the outcome of that interview, which took place in August 2012.

    Peta: I understand you have recently returned from launching a new CD, The Bridge Project, in Tel Aviv, and that you only met the other musicians involved in the recording at this launch. Can you tell us how this project started, and how it was actually recorded?

    Andy: The project started about two years ago. I’m a member of a group of software testers for a leading music software development and distribution company called Waves Audio that is based in Tel Aviv. The quality assurance co-ordinator, Ittai Shaked, wrote to me saying that he was unhappy about the break-up of his band. I asked him if he wanted to form another band. He said he was. I put a message out to the testing forum, which is made up of audio engineers, many of whom are musicians, and asked if anyone was interested. Umit Ceyhan, a Turkish refugee living in Toulouse, France responded and said he was keen to be involved. Thus The Bridge Project was born. We decided to record a CD together using data transfer over the Internet. We would each compose and record in our own studio and send files via dropbox to the others in the band and each would add his little bit of magic to the mix. Ittai, who has done some remixes for Peter Gabriel, did the mixing in Tel Aviv and I did the mastering here in Australia.

    Peta: What made you interested in developing a CD of this kind?

    Andy: It was a synchronous movement really. The CD evolved and as it took shape we started to realise that we had something really special here. What made the music even more special were the origins of the members. I was raised Christian, Ittai is Jewish and Umit was raised Moslem. We thought it was pretty unusual that this religious blend could seem to get together to create something other than a battlefield! This one created a thing of beauty which was, first and foremost our friendship, secondly our capacity to collaborate so easily in the formation of a work of art and thirdly the quality of the music which seemed to so easily draw from Israeli, Turkish and transcultural Australian influences. All of them are evident in the music yet not one of them emerges on its own. They all fold and blend together in the way that people all around the World ought to be able to do. It’s what people could really be ‘about’ without the rage that sometimes gathers when people regard difference as being more important than sameness.

    Peta: What were the highlights for you in creating the music, recording and launching the CD? I’m guessing that new friendships were formed out of the process….

    Andy: The highlight for me was definitely going to Israel to meet up with Ittai. Umit, unfortunately, got tangled up in bureaucratic red tape in France and because of his refugee status and his consequent political lack of power he wasn’t able to get a ‘Titre de Voyage’ in time to travel. This document is what is given to refugees in place of a passport. It would have been absolutely marvellous to have met both of them there and Ittai and I had to get over the grief of not having Umit with us before we could get on with the job at hand and bring the guest musicians that Ittai had assembled in Israel up to speed to perform with us. The spirit of The Bridge prevailed and in a performance in Tel Aviv, which was attended by Andrea Faulkner, the Australian Ambassador to Israel and a representative from the Israeli Department of Foreign Affairs, we had Umit with us on skype with his 6-year-old daughter Amelie. It was great to see them both bopping to the music and having a great time being able to be part of the gig. Israel and Turkey are at loggerheads at the moment so the launch and the relationship both shared and demonstrated by Ittai and Umit reflect what The Bridge Project is really all about: it’s about bridging between these three major religions, three cultures, three continents and three different musical backgrounds. It was also really edifying being in Israel and becoming aware of the liberal mindedness of the people I met; many of whom wanted to see a resolution of the conflict in the Middle East and all of whom were committed to the need for a Jewish homeland. Both of these of course appear, at this point in history, diametrically opposite each other. However, both of them are also in my opinion essential to global wellbeing. A visit to Yad Vashem – the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem- confirmed in my mind the importance for Jews to have a place that they can call their own and the dangers inherent in a Jewish Diaspora. The other highlight for me was the homous! Talk about mind-blowing in the nicest possible way.

    Peta: We had the pleasure of you performing, with your colleagues Mara and Llew Kiek, at our Harmony Day concert at the Lower Mountains Neighbourhood Centre in March this year. Do you think we will always need such reminders that cultural (and political) difference exists, and that we should all aim to embrace difference and live as harmoniously as possible with each other?

    Andy: Sorry Peta but this is going to be a long answer!

    I don’t think we need much of a reminder that difference exists. It’s unfortunately pushed into our faces too often and too violently. The extent to which difference generates a reaction in Australia, for example, is in the fear that is created in the minds of our citizens by the asylum seeker issue. It is almost impossible for me to believe but some people, who I imagine and deeply hope are in the minority, actually feel some sense of justification and almost pleasure when asylum seekers drown on their way over here. If these were asylum seekers from an English speaking country I’m sure we would be flying them out here rather than attempting to block their entry. It’s because we consider these people to be different that we can dismiss their humanity so easily. Yet they are not different; they are the same. You only have to see the enormity and gut wrenching sorrow of their expressions of grief when their loved men, women and children drown. Love, grief, sorrow, joy are all the same expressions resident in all people around the World. They are what ought to unite us. I truly believe that the embracing of difference can only occur when we negate those things that separate us. In Australia, in the majority of instances, we do live well together. It’s only in those isolated instances that are often blown up in the media or through political gamesmanship and seeking of electoral advantage that difference is amplified.

    Cultural diversity on the other hand and the enormous gifts it brings to this community are another matter. Long may they survive and be celebrated through events such as Harmony Day that are a monument to our attempts to unite and be as one. Events like Harmony Day are precisely what bring people together in all of their colour and culture and bring with them a sense of curiosity about the other rather than fear of them. Any time I can perform at events like these I am truly delighted.

    What we do find is that when people make genuine contact with each other, it is only those who are strongly indoctrinated that fail to see the other’s humanity. In one of the songs I composed and sang in Israel, I sing a line in Maltese (my mother tongue) which is: “we need to hold the babies of the World in our arms and clutch them to our hearts.” I firmly believe it is only then that our sameness will truly be embraced and human difference negated. Our experience in the community of Hazelbrook clearly demonstrated this recently when one of our very loved and prized community members, formerly a refugee, Zahra Mohammed Farag, died of breast cancer a year ago. The celebration of her life was held in Hazelbrook Primary School Hall and it was overflowing with local residents who wanted to come and pay their respects to Zahra and show support for her children. Zahra used to run a take-away shop in Hazelbrook. I often went and spent time with her there while she taught me Arabic pronunciations for some songs I was learning. You wouldn’t believe the number of homeless people who used to come to her shop for food. She never turned them away. She never charged them a cent. Her mantra was “if I don’t feed them who will??”. My wife and I loved Zahra enormously. She was a gigantic asset to this community. She was tiny in stature but huge in intellect, affection for her fellow human and in her generosity of spirit. She was from Iraq, just like many of those who drown in the Coral sea in their attempt to come here for a better life or to escape violence in their homeland.

    Peta: Are there any plans to bring the other musicians involved in The Bridge Project to Australia?

    Andy: There are indeed. I’m hoping to have the band accepted by a major Australian festival next year and once that is achieved I will be booking some other concerts for us. Ittai and Umit will be joining me here with some very special guests including my friends from Skorba (my Maltese band) John Robinson and Bertie McMahon and percussionists Tunji Beier or Peter Kennard. This will be a super hot combo and we will be organising a special concert for Mountains residents as part of the tour.

    Peta: Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers about this special project?

    Andy: I think I’ve probably said enough Peta! I would hate to out-stay my welcome.

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