- Mary Tomassetti
- Alber Baseel
When Alber Baseel, a Palestinian percussionist, met Travis Harden in October 2014, he felt an instant connection with the Lakota Ho-Chunk artist. "We share a similar spirit and are both drummers," Baseel explains. Harden was in Baseel's hometown of Bethelem along with members of the Tree of Life Educational Fund nonprofit. "We immediately exchanged our music and stories and have worked together many times since," Baseel says.
On Sunday, the two will be part of a four-man traveling encampment that will set up a tepee and Bedouin tents outside the Fletcher Free Library in Burlington. There they'll share stories and music from the Lakota, Palestinian and Bedouin cultures.
- Travis Harden
The Connecticut-based Tree of Life Educational Fund organized the traveling event series. Khalil Alamour, a Bedouin lawyer, historian and community leader from a village in Negev/Naqab in Israel; and Saber Shreim, a Palestinian actor from Jenin in the West Bank, complete the quartet.
The Queen City is the last leg of a road trip that has taken the men to Connecticut and Massachusetts. Donald Stevens, chief of the Nulhegan Band of the Coosuk-Abenaki Nation, will join the quartet for the Burlington event, the group's only public program in Vermont. Vermonters for Justice in Palestine is cosponsoring the local event.
Since its inception in 2004, Tree of Life has hosted speakers at churches and universities, as well as organized trips to the Holy Land. The organization aims to raise awareness in the U.S. about the condition of people living under occupation, most notably Palestinians.
- Khalil Alamour
Although the group's events have always been well received, its members want to reach new audiences, says coordinator Mary Tomassetti. "Many of the people who come to our events are people that already know what's happening in Palestine," she points out. "We want to try to reach out to new people in the communities that we visit."
Besides singing in Lakota, Harden, who lives in South Dakota, will perform a song that he and Baseel composed, he says, with Arabic, English and Lakota lyrics. The two men have developed a strong bond, and Harden treats Baseel like family.
Baseel, who is now a student at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, says the audience will have an opportunity to learn basic Middle Eastern percussion rhythms. "I am always happy to share my music, work and culture," he says, and notes that both Lakota and Palestinian cultures have been "colonized and threatened."
- Saber Shreim
"Lakota and Palestinians need to be recognized by [others]," says Baseel, "so people know that they are suffering and not being treated well."
Tomassetti says she has met "some difficult audience members" at previous Tree of Life events. "When you're working on social justice issues, that's bound to happen."
But she doesn't anticipate that reception when the traveling encampment stops in Burlington. "We're bringing a cultural event," Tomassetti says. "If people in the audience take issue to that, then that's their right. They're welcome to host events [where] they can share their perspectives."