Why Roger Waters picked Neve Shalom - Wahat al-Salam - an interview with concert promoter Shuki WeissSunday 18 June 2006
On June 22, Roger Waters is set to perform his "Dark Side of the Moon" concert in the fields below Neve Shalom - Wahat al-Salam. It will be Waters’ first time in Israel and this summer’s big musical event. Tens of thousands of people are expected, and preparations are well underway, under the watchful eye of Shuki Weiss. Weiss is Israel’s premier producer and concert promoter for top artists. For more than twenty years he has been bringing the cream of the international music scene to Israel. It hasn’t been smooth-sailing, since there have been many times when artists have either considered it too dangerous to come, or have simply shied away from the quagmires of mid-east politics. I interviewed Shuki Weiss about his work and the upcoming concert.
What is your personal history with Neve Shalom - Wahat al-Salam.
"I know Neve Shalom from your “Open Day” festival back in 1985. Iris Elhanani, who was working for me, told me about the idea and got me involved - all on a voluntary basis. It was a great event - one of the most moving that I can remember, with lots of important Jewish and Arab artists, such as Makram Khouri, Mohammad Bakri, Amal Murkus, Dori Ben Ze’ev, Shalom Hanoch, Dafna Armoni and others. Then, in your second (even larger) festival, in 1987, I was also involved, though a bit less. Since then, on a number of occasions we have checked options for events, together with my good friend, David Broza" [Israeli pop singer and grandson of early NSWAS resident, the late Pinchas (Wellesley) Aron.
You have a long history of bringing international artists to israel. How is this different?
“Well, there have been lots of artists - I’m not even sure I remember all of them. There are those who just come over for a day, give a concert and go away, and there are others, for whom the visit is much more meaningful. For instance, REM almost cancelled. Their drummer had a stroke while giving a performance in Europe. But I told him, we have places in Israel that can help you open your mind in a positive way - and so they were persuaded to come. It was their drummer’s first appearance after recovering from his stroke. When Eric Clapton came, I said, "Where would you like to appear, Mr. Clapton - we could get you Hayarkon Park, with 50,000 people," and he said, “You know, you have so many beautiful places in Israel... I’d rather do a few interesting sites.” So I thought what we could do and said, “Caesaria can be a fabulous night; "Sultan’s Pool" will be great too - and the most interesting: the Lake of Galilee. But it won’t be a regular performance - I’m gonna build the stage in the water, you’re gonna walk on the water, like someone else did!" After being here, he said, "You know, I’ve appeared all over the world, but I was never moved like I was here..."
Shuki Weiss gave other examples that showed his special pride in making the visit of every artist meaningful, in accordance with their personal interests and worldview. “That way, it isn’t just another concert on a tiring tour, but something they will always remember.” It was in this framework that the idea of bringing Roger Waters to Neve Shalom - Wahat al-Salam emerged:
"My story with Roger Waters goes back 19 years - that was the time we first talked about doing a concert in Israel. One of the dates we considered was Israel’s 40th anniversary. And, for more than ten years we have been talking about Neve Shalom as the location."
Why Neve Shalom Wahat al-Salam?
"Waters’ has always been interested in humanitarian causes, coexistence, and the like. So I had to find him something suitable. Neve Shalom is my one true example of coexistence, unfortunately, so I told him about it and he said that’s where he wanted to appear. This was the original plan when we talked about the concert last year. But we thought it would be in 2007. Then, in January this year he decided to do a short tour this year instead, and said he could come to Israel in June. The problem was, the fields around Neve Shalom had already been planted, and it didn’t seem practical to do it there at such short notice, so we decided on Hayarkon Park. Instead of doing the performance in Neve Shalom, he said he would just give his press conference there. Then he looked at the matter more deeply and decided to move the concert to Neve Shalom after all."
Do you see Waters’ stance as political? What do you have to say to all those who have doubts about coming because of their political viewpoint?
"As we have already mentioned, Waters is a man who is interested in humanitarian and ideological causes, so it definitely isn’t a political stance. For instance, when people criticized his decision to appear in Israel, he said that he is willing to perform here because there are fans who like his music, just as he is willing to perform in Britain, though he does not support the policies of the British government.
"When we announced that the concert was moving to Neve Shalom, there were lots of angry voices and people telling us they would cancel their tickets. But apparantly many people were happy about it too, even if they were less vocal. Because on the day of the announcement we sold 2,000 tickets, while till today, only 117 people have cancelled.
"It was a significant step for Waters to move the concert to Neve Shalom, and it is going to leave a very positive message. It’s good that there are artists like him. He knows very well that it would have been much cheaper to do the concert in Tel Aviv and that moving it to Neve Shalom is going to cut deeply into his earnings. Many artists talk a lot about human rights issues - but when it comes to their wallet, they aren’t willing to give a penny. Waters isn’t a talker - he’s a doer - he doesn’t even intend to do interviews while in Israel. The only place he will speak, if at all, is in Neve Shalom."
After Palestinian organizations - even those calling for a cultural boycott of Israel - gave their sanction to the concert here, Neve Shalom - Wahat al-Salam seems to be emerging as the one venue in Israel that both sides can be happy with - do you see a potential to bring other performers here?
"You are telling me something new there, by the way. I don’t know how much longer I will be in this business but I’m sure, with good planning, it would be possible to do performances here - especially smaller ones that don’t require us to plough up fields of chickpeas before their time! One thing I can promise you is that after this month, everyone in the country will know where to find Neve Shalom."
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