Light in Babylon: We will take the audience through the Middle East, the Mediterranean and the Balkans

Light in Babylon is a band made up of singer and songwriter Michal Elijah Kamal, Metehan Çiftçi, who plays the Indian instrument santur, as well as guitarist Julien Demarque. They are the core of the band, and they met in Istanbul in 2010. As street musicians in one of Istanbul's most popular districts, they honed their craft, and in 2012 they recorded their first album Life Sometimes Doesn’t Give You Space, followed by the second in a row, three years later - New World. Percussionist Stuart Dixon and bassist Jack Butler are an integral part of this band today, with whom they bring smiles to their audiences all over Europe.

They are coming to Novi Sad for the first time to take us on a musical journey through the Middle East, the Mediterranean all the way to the Balkans, and we took advantage of this unique opportunity to talk to the only lady in the band about the concert they are preparing for us, and about their beginnings as well, when they played on the streets of the city that was the European Capital of Culture in 2010. We recommend you mark 19 March in your calendar, when you can enjoy the gastronomic specialities of Southeast Europe with the sounds of Light in Babylon.

As part of the European Capital of Culture Gastro Migrations programme, the audience in Novi Sad will have a unique opportunity to hear Light in Babylon live on stage for the first time while enjoying various specialties from European regions. What can we expect from your performance and are you looking forward to coming to Novi Sad?

We are more than looking forward to perform in Novi Sad, in fact, it will be our first concert in Serbia, finally! Many of our listeners were waiting for us for too long, and finally we will meet them in our concert. Our concert is not just music, but we will take our audience to a journey through the Middle East, the Mediterranean Sea and the Balkans, we will share with you our story, our dreams and our message.

All the members of the band come from different places, they have different religious and cultural backgrounds… It is this multiculturalism that makes you so authentic. How do you complement each other and how well do you agree with each other?

We would like to consider ourselves as the world people, the world citizens as we our music is world music and the people who are listening to our music are from all over the world; different countries/religions/clotures. But technically in our band we come from different nationalities, Michal, the singer/drummer is Israeli-Iranian, Julien, the guitarist is French and Metehan, the santur player is Turkish, on the oriental percussion set is our drummer from Scotland and Jack, from England on the bass guitar.
We always call our music, world music, we see our-self as the people of the world, and our message is that before all nationally, culture, religion, language.. We are all first of all humans, when we will remember that we will remember to respect each other. In our music, you will hear the Middle East, the Mediterranean Sea and the Balkans.

What role does your music play in overcoming cultural barriers that have always existed in society?

We believe that we are representing a voice of a generation that wants to reconnect, that wonts to discover the world. In our times, just by pressing a button you can arrive to the other side of the world. Our music helps people to dream far, to open their eyes and heart. When you go out there, and travel and meet in person people from another culture or religion, you will always discover your own reflection, this is how we feel each time, each place, and we are trying to pass on this feeling by music.

What is the meaning of your band’s name? How would you characterize your band and is there any symbolism hidden in the name?

There are two reasons we chose the name Light in Babylon as our band name. Our first stage was the street. In the street, people are walking home, going to or back from work, nobody looks, and nobody smiles. The moment you put music in the street it makes people stop, to listen, to smile, to cry, to dance and to communicate with each others. Babylon is a name for the system that forces us to look in only one direction. At the moment you put any kind of art in the system you create light, making the people also look to a different direction.

The second reason is the story about the Babel tower, the time when cultures separated and people started to speak different languages. Also, in our band we are from different places and we speak different languages, but despite that, we have a common culture and language, music. In the context of migrations as a theme of the European Capital of Culture programme, how do you view the phenomenon of migrations which has been the main topic in the media in recent years? Do you believe that there is light at the end of the tunnel of this global crisis?

We believe in people, we believe in humanity so for us where there is darkness, there will be always also light at the end of the tunnel. Maybe we cannot change the world, and we are not to tell others what to do, but what we can do, is to share our own story and to inspire others to do the same in their own way.

You started out as street musicians in Istanbul and performed on stage for over 10 years. What challenges did you face then and what was the trajectory of your career? Now that you have two albums behind you, what are you most proud of in your work?

We performed in Istiklal street in our first years as a band , I must say that Istiklal street is not just a street , not like any street but a very special place , in that time (2012) it was a place where people who passed by there , where searching for something. Something to happen, some music or art. It was a place of diversity, different people, different clotures, religion, and opinions, everyone passed there and listened to our music and felt something. The reaction of the people was amazing, they wanted to get close, they cry, smile, or dance. putting something like our music in the middle of someone day, just like that, live with no boundaries, create a strong impact and touch deeply the listeners, but not only them, also us, we learn a lot from it, how to understand people, how to respect people, and how to be modest and humble, now that we become more famous and we play in all kind of big stages, we still remember what we learned from our time in Istiklal street.
We must stay that we feel ourselves very lucky to have such an amazing people listening to our music. After each of our concert, we always give time and invite the audience to meet us for some photos, signatures, and Cd’s. It gives us the time to see our audience, in the eyes. even if it is crowded and takes long time, we always stay till the last person, because for me, it is the best part of the concert. it gives me a lots of hope to meet so many people with open heart and open mind. people who still believe in people and have hope and spark in the eyes like me. It does not matter if it in Europe or in other place, people who listen to our music always react the same and the warm part of them comes out.

What sets your music apart from the rest of the music scene? Is it the synergy of cultures that you bring to the stage with your music?

We believe that music is not only entertainment, not only for pass the time. Music has a meaning and impact on our life. Light in Babylon brings not only music but also emotion, in a world where peoples need more and more to hide their emotion, where television become more cynical and the pop music more artificial, people are hungry for something real, they want not only to hear music but also to feel it! The music we make say something, there is something honest in it, full of hope.
Music can do many thing and can connect many people but I believe that music carries within some energy and it is very important where the music come from, for what purpose. When you open the radio and hear a commercial there is also music in the commercial, it can be very nice music, but the purpose of that one is to manipulate you to buy something. When we all met each other in the band, music connected us all but for this to be happening we had to have something clean inside, something naïve, we needed to want to be connected and to communicate. Only because of it we could create something like our music that will help others connect and feel too.
Although not everyone understands the language in which you write and sing your lyrics, everyone understands the language of music and emotions. What’s your opinion on it?
It is amazing for us to see the reaction of our audience, in each concert we made around the world, is always the same. It proves us each time how much emotions is an international language and how much, we, human beings, has in common. Yes, most of our songs are in the Hebrew language but in some magical way, everyone understand and connect tour music so strongly.

Apart from preparing for the concert in Novi Sad, what are you currently working on?
We have many new things we are working on this year, a new album on its way, new video clips and new tours around the world. Follow our YouTube channel, Instagram and Facebook, we are always updating and communicating with our fans. Our fans are part of us, they always supported us along our way.

Author: Marina Marić

Photo: Private archive

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