In a famous speech in January 2002, U.S. President George W. Bush described Iraq, Iran, and North Korea as an "axis of evil," saying they and their allies posed a grave danger with their pursuit of banned weapons. Now, female musicians from around the world have given the phrase a new twist. Together with a Norwegian producer, they've made "Lullabies from the Axis of Evil." The project features singers from Bush's "axis of evil" countries, as well as other countries in the news, such as Syria, Afghanistan, and Uzbekistan. The collection of songs aims to be a message of peace and hope -- and to show that, wherever people come from, they have much in common.
Prague, 19 November 2004 (RFE/RL) -- When Erik Hillestad first heard Bush's "axis of evil" speech, he was angry at how the U.S. president had stigmatized entire countries.
So, the Norwegian music producer decided to go on a journey to meet with ordinary people from Iraq, Iran, and other "problematic" places around the world.
"People are people. We share the same dreams. We have a lot of things in common in terms of music and heritage," Hillestad said. "On these journeys, I asked for people to sing lullabies, and I was thinking this was a very interesting project to develop, to build small bridges of music between the East and the West, and using lullabies from these countries that were mentioned by the president of the United States, because lullabies are really something that we have in common."
Over the next few months, Hillestad recorded women singing lullabies in every place he went -- not just Iraq and Iran, but Syria, Cuba, Afghanistan, and Israel. And he got a friend to make a recording in North Korea.
Then he added music, and matched the women with other, mainly Western, singers to create a musical bridge.
The result was the recently released CD "Lullabies from the Axis of Evil."
Palestinian singer Rim Banna had just given birth to twins when Hillestad visited her at home in Nazareth to make some recordings.
Banna felt the project was the perfect vehicle to protest U.S. foreign policy.
But she added that one of her lullabies, "This Never-Ending Night," is too sad to sing to her own children.
"In this song, you can listen to all the pain of the Palestinian people, it's [being told through] this lullaby," Banna said. "The mother is talking with herself and telling [about how she is] missing her relatives, her brother and mother [who] are living in the refugee camps abroad, and she can't see them for 30, 40 years. So you can feel this [pain] in the tune, even if you don't understand the meaning of the lullaby."
The CD also features singers from the United States. In one song, Pari Zanganeh of Iran is partnered with the Washington National Cathedral Girls Choristers.
The project is protest music of a different sort. But Hillestad said that lullabies can be more powerful than the language and action of revolt.
And just like lullabies, he said, the aim of the new CD is to soothe fears.
"People are being told so much that you have to be so much afraid of these [other] people, these Muslims, these people from evil countries like the axis of evil," Hillestad said. "I don't underestimate the dangers that are coming from extreme groups. But what we forget in this picture is that most people are just dreaming of the same things, and we have the same hopes for a peaceful life. And if we try to concentrate on that and resist all the voices to tell us to avoid these people and stay away from their countries and their culture and their religion -- if we avoid this and do the opposite, try to face these people -- I think that's much more peacemaking."
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