DDD volunteer, Magdalena Mach, conducted a recent interview with Art Solution members and “Campaign for Stambeli Tradition” implementers Valeria Meneghelli and Sana Jlassi:
MM: To begin with, would you mind explaining briefly how your project contributes to preserving the tradition and heritage of Stambeli?
VM: Our initial idea was to act in two different ways: to work with the authorities, cultural organizations, therefore with the institutions, on one hand, and on the other hand, to work with the society, and most importantly, with the youth. We wanted to use the contacts of Art Solution to enhance the knowledge of this tradition. In order to sensibilize the authorities to the problems and promote this culture, which is now not very well known as it is not practiced enough.
MM: What was your motivation? Why did you choose to realize this project?
VM: Well, we have noticed that many people were vouching for Stambeli culture. So we analyzed the context and we found that it is a very precious culture, which is also very anchored as it’s at a musical and psychological levels.
SJ: It is the root for multiple Tunisian music genres. It has both African and Islamic origins, so it is a fusion of both, which has given birth to other music genres and dance traditions, but is currently at risk of being lost. So while these younger genres are being supported, their origin, the Stambeli tradition, is dying. We also found the creative and performative potential which this tradition has very valuable. We found that this could be something to discover and exploit to create new research possibilities and fusions with Hip Hop and Breakdance.
MM: So your goal is to revitalize this culture?
VM: Yes, and this could also be either a creative aspect or a research object. This might also have an economic value because it will engage the community of Stambeli in other creations, in other possibilities to show off their culture and it will enable them to make the art they master accessible in a changing music business.
SJ: It’s a tradition in which the transmission has been within the family from its emergence in Tunisia. So they went down a road where they would wall themselves off from outsiders. Before we were used to it during the month of Ramadan, for example, the rituals would have a certain frequency over the year. This way, even for those who weren’t very much into Stambeli it would be visible. But this process of self-isolation resulted in a regression.
MM: How did you get in contact with these people? How did you find the groups?
VM: Actually, we got in contact with the community of researchers who have already been working on this first, mostly from the Superior Institute of Music. We had our first contacts through them and then everything fell into place naturally. Everyone gave us the contacts of the others. So we made a whole tour.
MM: How is the situation of the groups you met? Are they many?
VM: No, they are not. If you compare the number of business cards given out to Stambeli musicians by the Ministry of Culture to the number of musicians in other genres, it’s astonishing. You can’t compare it. In Tunis, there are only three authoritative “Gombri” players now, and only about fifteen “Shaqashiq” players. And for the rest, there are still a handful Stambeli healers who have conserved and still know all of the traditions of the ceremonies.
MM: Did you have any difficulties realizing this project?
VM: Well, it was difficult, meaning we didn’t foresee having to do so much advocacy work among the members of Stambeli community already. Because in the beginning they weren’t very trusting, they were always a little closed. They didn’t want to share what they do with everyone, because there was this old mentality and there is also a crisis now, so there is a strong competition going on between the members. We really had to work hard on establishing relationships.
MM: Where are you now in your project? What is it that still needs to be done and what have you already accomplished?
VM: We built up ties with the world of Stambeli. We regrouped the data in order to be able to compose the report, an analysis of the present situation. We are in the making of a documentary which will be ready very soon. And we have really entered the phase of advocacy which will reach from now until the end of the project.
MM: What is the final goal of your project? Where do you wish to arrive with this project?
VM: We wish to create efficient strategies to make actions possible which can guarantee Stambeli’s inscription into UNESCO. Apart from this, we want to help create new job opportunities. The musicians and dancers/healers could work on recordings, this way. So we want to create a certain economic dynamism and stimulate future actions and creations.
MM: Do you want to continue this work even after the project is over?
VM: We absolutely want to continue this work after the project is over. In fact, we are aware of the fact that the process we are attempting to construct should go through many stages, and it will require constant monitoring to assure that the measures necessary for the tradition’s safeguarding are successfully put in place. Along with this, the research we carried out will prove a useful tool to develop artistic exchanges between Stambeli heritage and Hip Hop based on a conscious and responsible approach. In addition, as often happens when working with advocacy and communities, we matured strong human relationships with all individuals we worked with. Some of them lamented that research and artistic projects carried out in the past have failed to address their issues as they were not based on long-term perspectives. We do not want to repeat such a pattern as it would reinforce people’s perception that their tradition is being exploited and no change is possible. After all, Stambeli tradition is based on the principle that “one must give in order to receive”. This is the very principle that inspires and will continue to inspire our work.
The campaign aims at preserving and rehabilitating the traditional heritage of Stambeli, as well as, raising awareness of the discrimination faced by this community among both local authorities, such as the Ministry of Culture, and a broader public.