Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood Shares Statement On His Involvement With Israeli Musician Dudu Tassa

Shin Katan

Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood Shares Statement On His Involvement With Israeli Musician Dudu Tassa

Shin Katan

Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead and the Smile has issued a statement about his ongoing collaboration with the Israeli musician Dudu Tassa. The statement concerns Greenwood’s belief that Israeli artists should not be silenced during the nation’s war with Hamas, a campaign that many have characterized as genocide due to the vast numbers of civilian casualties among the Palestinian population. It does not comment upon Israeli’s war effort.

Greenwood is married to the Israeli artist Sharona Katan, who has vocally supported Israel’s military campaign. Radiohead have a long history with Israel, where “Creep” first became a hit three decades ago. The band has performed there several times, including a widely protested 2017 performance in Tel Aviv. Last year Greenwood released an album with Tassa featuring a variety of traditional Middle Eastern music with performers from across the region.

Nine days ago Greenwood played a concert with Tassa in Tel Aviv, a performance described as “artwashing genocide” by the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement. The night before the gig, Greenwood was spotted at a protest against the Israeli government where people were calling for new elections, the ouster of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and the expedited return of Israeli hostages from Hamas. It was not a protest against Israel’s war effort.

In response to the clamor around his involvement with Tassa and Israeli creatives in general, Greenwood shared the following statement:

I’m playing festivals in Europe this summer with Dudu Tassa and the Kuwaitis. Some people are asking me why.

I’ve been collaborating with Dudu and releasing music with him since 2008 – and working privately long before that. I think an artistic project that combines Arab and Jewish musicians is worthwhile. And one that reminds everyone that the Jewish cultural roots in countries like Iraq and Yemen go back for thousands of years, is also important.

For all that, whenever you call an artistic endeavour ‘important’ it ascribes an earnestness to the whole thing. Really, it’s just musicians from all over the Middle East having mutual respect for each other, working together across borders, and sharing our love for the long catalogue of Arabic songs – whether they were written by Muslim, Jewish or Christian composers.

(Perhaps the most famous Iraqi composer was Dudu’s grandfather, who was one of the legendary Al Kuwaity brothers, and who’s songs are still staples of Arab-wide radio stations though sadly their heritage as Jews is never mentioned any longer).

Others choose to believe this kind of project is unjustifiable, and are urging the silencing of this or any artistic effort made by Israeli Jews. But I can’t join that call: the silencing of Israeli film makers / musicians / dancers when their work tours abroad – especially when it’s at the urging of their fellow western film makers/musicians/artists feels unprogressive to me. Not least because it’s these people that are invariably the most progressive members of any society.

I’m grateful to be working the remarkable musicians I’ve met during this project, all of whom strike me as much braver – and taking far more of a principled risk than those who are trying to shut us down, or who are now attempting to ascribe a sinister ulterior motivation to the band’s existence. There isn’t one: we are musicians honouring a shared culture, and I’ve been involved in this for nearly 20 years now.

Anyway, no art is as ‘important’ as stopping all the death and suffering around us. How can it be? But doing nothing seems a worse option. And silencing Israeli artists for being born Jewish in Israel doesn’t seem like any way to reach an understanding between the two sides of this apparently endless conflict.

So: that’s why I’m making music with this band. You’re welcome to disagree with, or ignore, what we do but I hope you now understand what the true motivation is, and can react to the music without suspicion or hate.

The Smile have lots of European tour dates still scheduled for this summer. Meanwhile Thom Yorke, Greenwood’s bandmate in Radiohead and the Smile, just announced a solo tour.

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