Ibrahim Najjar always manages to make me smile. There’s something about him-maybe its the fact that he’s one of those people who’s been able to actualize his life long dream-in his case, of becoming a music teacher. Maybe its his demeanor-always timidly smiling, always speaking in a soft comforting tone, even in the darkest of times.
I’ve known Abu Anas, as he is known here, for over 13 years, when I enrolled in his then nascent music institute to learn how to play the 3oud (sadly, I was not as successful in realizing this dream as Abu Anas, namely because I am tone deaf and he is not ).
I think back fondly to those days: we were an eclectic group, including a gifted 5 year old boy and a determined 71 year old woman who had always wanted to learn to play the piano. We sat in a crowded, unventilated room, ill-equipped for music learning, let alone recording, and dutifully followed Abu Anas’s instructions as he enthusiastically asked us to tap or clap out a combination of rhythms after him. The result was a cacophonous and hilarious combination of sounds and hysterical laughter.
Abu Anas received his degree in music in Cairo (but not before initially enrolling in medicine and “fainting after seeing my first cadaver”) and after that, a scholarship to complete his studies and ultimately teach music in Kuwait. He excels in 17 instruments. In the 90s, when Gaza opened up for “visiting” Palestinians,and a limited number of ID cards were granted to Palestinians in exile, he took the opportunity to return to his estranged home to fulfill his life long dream of establishing a music school
I periodically visit Abu Anas. The last time was almost 4 years ago, when I wrote an article for Aljazeera about his school (which I now cannot find). He was worried about the safety of his students after Palestinian infighting paralyzed the city.
Yesterday i arranged to visit Abu Anas again, this time to enroll Yousuf in his institute. I was shocked to learn that the institute (which had since moved from the temporary location to a more permanent one housed in the al-Quds hospital Red Crescent complex) was bombed multiple times and ultimately burned completely to the ground by Israeli forces during their assault on Gaza. Abu Anas told me that no instruments were spared.
I sense sadness in his eyes when he speaks about his old instruments. But he smiles-as always, when he shows me the new instruments, now in the new and improved Gaza School of Music, down the road. The School was funded largely by the Palestinian philanthropic organization the Qattan Foundation, which is also responsible for the incredible Qattan Center for the Child in Gaza City. Instruments were transported with the assistance of ANERA and a French foundation.
Abu Anas says they have received nothing but support, and the domestic political environment has not affected them. “Our people are fond of music. It is a part of our culture and rich history.”
Recently, one of his students won the Marcel Khalife National Music Competition-the highest musical honor in Palestine, with the Qanoon.
“We have so many prodigies here, the spirit of the human soul here, the resilience of our people and children never ceases to amaze me” says Abu Anas.
Here’s to the music man of Gaza! For more on his school, see Eva Bartlett’s article for Inter Press Service.