David Buchbinder is a musician on a mission.
The jazz trumpeter/producer/activist/whirlwind is describing to me the thinking behind his Routes of Andalucia concert, which will be presented in a family-friendly version on Saturday afternoon at Toronto's Koerner Hall. Mervon Mehta of the Royal Conservatory first commissioned this show in 2011; it's since been presented at the 2014 opening of Toronto's Aga Khan Museum. This is the first time it's been fashioned specifically for kids.
For Buchbinder, Andalusia represents a golden age in the history of mankind when, from about 700 to 1500, the southern portion of the Iberian peninsula was a cultural mecca, so to speak, that brought together Muslims, Jews, Greeks and many others to lay the foundations of what is now our world.
"Andalusia was this incredible moment in human history which achieved a kind of greatness in all areas of human endeavour – food, architecture, medicine, philosophy, religion, music and poetry. No Andalusia, no troubadours, no Renaissance, no modern medicine, no astronomy, no mathematics. It was the first time of real creative connection between Arabs and Jews."
Buchbinder first became interested in Andalusia when he created his jazz/fusion project Odessa/Havana with Cuban pianist Hilario Duran. "I could feel there was some connection between the musical traditions of my forefathers in Russia and Afro-Cuban music, but I didn't know what it was. Then I discovered that the Jews expelled from the Iberian peninsula in 1492 finally ended up, in some measure, in Eastern Europe. And it was from that same part of the world [Spain], half a century later, that the conquistadors that colonized Latin America originated. So that was the connection between Odessa and Havana – Andalusia. It's such a fascinating story for people, and especially kids, to learn."
For Buchbinder, the mission is personal as well as musical. He's a Jew born in Kansas City, Mo., married to a Palestinian born in Kuwait, the dancer Roula Said. They met, fell in love, married and had a child here. And the "here" for Buchbinder is very much part of the musical vision he wishes to impart in his show. For him, Andalusia is not just a musty, golden age from humanity's past. It's a template and a vision to guide a modern future, and especially one for Toronto.
"To me," Buchbinder says, "there is a resonance between Andalusia and Toronto. In a very different way, in a very different system, in a very different time, there was an incredible flowering created through the power and stress of different cultures coming together. I think Toronto's the same. I think this is who we are right now, or who we could be."
For all his missionary zeal, Buchbinder and his musician colleagues, including his wife, have created a show for kids that is heavy on entertainment and fun, creating a journey that emphasizes a key Andalusian virtue – seeing beauty in the world. There will be participatory elements, and lots of music and dance.
But Buchbinder will gently remind his young audience that at this very moment, some of the descendants of Andalusia and everything it stood for are making their way to Canada. After their expulsion from the Iberian peninsula in the 15th century, Arabs from Andalusia made their way, among other places, to Syria. Aleppo, a Syrian city now in ruins, was a major cultural centre for centuries. Now the descendants of that culture are coming to make Canada their home. The tensions as well as the possibilities of that journey is what Routes of Andalucia is all about.
Routes of Andalucia is performed in Toronto at the Royal Conservatory of Music on Dec. 5 at 2 p.m. (rcmusic.ca).