Duets for Abdelrazik: The Art of Political Action

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Al-Akhbar Management

Album artwork by "Nazik Dakkach"

By: Rebecca Whiting

Published Tuesday, January 22, 2013

When governments wield their power to violate the basic tenets of human rights, communities are at times left bereft of the capacity to challenge them. “Duets for Abdelrazik” is the soundtrack to a story of defiance.

At the behest of the Canadian government, Abousfian Abdelrazik, a Sudanese-born Canadian dual citizen, was arrested and held in Sudan without ever being charged. Over a six year period, he was detained at length twice, beaten, and tortured, and then after his release was barred from returning to Canada. When human rights activists in Montreal, the city that had been his home, heard of his plight, they rallied together to bring him back.

Abdelrazik, who is currently seeking respite from inquisitive journalists, had come to Canada as a refugee and was granted citizenship. In 2003, he returned to Sudan to visit his ill mother. There he was arrested by Sudanese officials upon the recommendation of the Canadian Security and Intelligence Services (CSIS), who were suspicious of him because several of his acquaintances were suspected of having “terrorist” connections.

The Sudanese government eventually exonerated Abdelrazik, finding no evidence of any crimes, but the Canadian government continued to refuse to facilitate his return. His status was decisively shaped by his inclusion on a UN al-Qaeda Sanctions List, also know as the 1267 list. Grouped in with individuals suspected of ties to al-Qaeda and the Taliban, Abdelrazik was barred from travel and all his assets were frozen.

A campaign started back in Canada called Project Fly Home, which in defiance of the Canadian government and the UN, collected donations to finance Abdelrazik’s flight to Canada. He was eventually able to return to Montreal mid-2009.

The extended and arduous struggle that Abdelrazik endured led a group of Montreal-based musicians, all committed to challenging social injustice, to explore the relationship between music and activism in a public expression of solidarity.

The musician who organized the “Duets for Abdelrazik” project, pianist Stefan Christoff, wanted to discover ways that “the horror and terror involved for individuals such as Abdelrazik” could be communicated.

The work, which comprises six tracks with Christoff’s piano intertwining in duets with saxophone, violin, contrabass, buzuq, cello, and oud, is a tender and emotive composition, strongly influenced by Arabic musical tradition.

The melancholic tones of the album, at moments carried by thoughtful meanderings on the piano and at others punctuated by stark strikes, above all exude a sense of loss and longing.

The pieces, which play like conversations between Christoff and the musicians he plays beside, are, he says, a reflection on the personal story and struggles of Abdelrazik, a case which “symbolizes the uncomfortable truth about the great injustices directed at the Arab and Muslim community in Canada post 9/11” – a time that saw the CSIS practice widespread racial profiling and organize institutional attacks against these communities.

The music was composed over discussions on Abdelrazik’s story, political ideals, the relationship between activism and music, and through talks with Abdelrazik, who believes “music is a very important tool for communicating peace and justice all over the world.”

It was only in December 2011 that Abdelrazik was removed from the 1267 list. In a press conference at the time, Abdelrazik said, “It's like I'm dreaming. I have finally gotten back the freedom that was stolen from me.”

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