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The consolidation of art: the man who played the cello in the midst of war


Orchestra conductor Karim Wasfi decided to sit down where a bomb had exploded in Baghdad and play his cello. Why?

The reality of the world can be a source of anguish. In Baghdad, for example, bombs have become part of everyday life for its inhabitants, and who have almost become accustomed to the terrible state of war. Recently, however, when a car bomb exploded in the crowded Mansour neighborhood and killed at least ten people, something unusual happened, an enlightening event.

Karim Wasfi, the well-known conductor of the Iraq National Symphony Orchestra, arrived at the scene of the explosion as the soldiers were securing the area, sat down on a small chair he had brought with him, took his cello out of its case and began to play. The scene was so powerful and unexpected that the soldiers and civilians fell silent, and some even began to cry. Why did this man decide to go there and play his cello?

In an interview, Wasfi said it was an attempt “to equalize things, to reach the equilibrium between ugliness, insanity and grotesque, indecent acts of terror – to equalize it, or to overcome it, by acts of beauty, creativity and refinement.”

The musician went to the bombsite to counteract, by means of musical creation, the massacre and death, with a manifestation of life. “When things are insane and abnormal like that, I have the obligation of inspiring people, sharing hope, perseverance, dedication, and preserving the momentum of life,” he said.

Such an achievement by an artist occurs very rarely. Having witnessed it, and the fact that the video has gone viral and so many people so far away have seen it means that there is a ray of light that changes the ‘normality’ of things. If violence is a constant in Baghdad, it is not something that by force should determine its stories, its declarations to the world.

Karim Wasfi did much more than comfort a place destroyed by a car bomb and those who were there; he began a startling debate to question the warmongering custom, the deaths, the abuse of the prolonged Iraq invasion and to propose another custom: that of art as comfort. Asked why he resists violence with music, Wasfi said:

"Because it refines and cultivates. Because it inspires people. Because it develops better brains. Because it helps with with math and physics. Because it helps you with art and painting. […] Because you can breathe better. Because you can think better and more clearly. Because you can find talent within yourself. And, before all of that, because it is an international language of mutual understanding. It is everything."

After discovering all the global attention his video received, he commented that for a long time he had wanted to organize an initiative against the madness and the impact of the instability with music as his weapon. And if music has the effect of “making us breathe better” and reconciling the world with itself, let’s hope that is how it is. It is often enough to enjoy an episode of light in the darkness we are accustomed to in order to switch on all of the light that is buried.

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