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Last night I went to a fundraising concert in aid of MAP, Medical Aid for Palestinians. It was arranged at short notice and held in St Mary’s Cathedral in Edinburgh. As I bought tickets, I wondered how many people would turn out for such an event on a cold November evening. In fact, when we approached the cathedral there was already a long queue of people waiting to get in, despite the dark and a blustery wind. By the start time of the concert, the cathedral was totally packed, more packed than I have ever seen it. I felt quite impressed with the folk of Edinburgh.
The organisers had assembled a ‘dream team’, as they put it, of contributors from folk, jazz, and poetry. We had singer Karine Polwart and pianist Dave Milligan, poet Liz Lochhead and sax player Steve Kettley, violinist Aidan O’Rourke, flautist Bashir Saade, and the poet Nada Shawa. All of them gave heartfelt and admirable performances.
Before the concert, Dr Colin Cooper – who has worked on humanitarian aid projects in Gaza – introduced the event with a brief but harrowing description of what it must be like to be a mother giving birth in Gaza without pain relief or anaesthetic, especially if a Caesarian section becomes necessary or the baby has to be urgently transferred to an intensive care department which has no electricity.
After that, the audience was silent and remained silent through the solo on Arabic nay flute played by Dr Bashir Saade. Its Arabic tuning – the third and sixth of the scale so tantalising and intriguing to those of us brought up on western major and minor scales – hung poignantly in the air as if someone had superimposed an invisible desert landscape on the dark stone-cold canvas of an old Scottish cathedral.