Duo takes 'musical mission to the Middle East'

Musicians share experiences of trip to Baghdad during war

By Amy Hebert -- Camera Staff Writer

The smiling faces surrounding Cameron Powers and Kristina Sophia on the streets of Baghdad last month expressed more interest in the Boulder duo's music than in the burning buildings around them.

The local musicians, who entered the Iraqi capital nine days after the U.S. Marines, said few people reacted to the sound of gunshots or the sight of looters and huge fires, but they were riveted by the two Americans playing Arabic music in the street.

"People were so refreshed to see Americans interested in their music and language," Powers said.

The couple took a "musical mission to the Middle East" to connect with ordinary people there and bring their stories back to ordinary people in America.

Now that they're home, they've started a tour of public presentations in which they share their slides, stories and songs. They played in Lafayette on Saturday and will play next weekend in Denver and Boulder before heading on a tour through New Mexico, California and Oregon.

The Boulder show is May 25 at 1:30 p.m. in Boulder Unity Church, 2855 Folsom St., and more information is available online at www.musicalmissions.com.

Like their travels, the couple's two-hour presentations are more about people than politics, said Powers, 59.

"We try not to be for or against anything," he said. "We're for people on the streets of the world being heard and seen."

Powers, a linguist who travelled widely before the events of Sept. 11, 2001, made him decide to turn his trips into missions of cultural exchange, said he wants to issue to Americans an urgent travel advisory about the Middle East "Go there."

Once there, it's amazing how open people are to Americans regardless of their opinions on the U.S. government, Powers and Sophia said. 'They said Iraqis surrounded them in the street and welcomed them into their homes after seeing Powers carrying his oud, a traditional Middle Eastern stringed instrument.

The duo played in streets, restaurants and homes, encircled by friendly strangers who disregarded the surrounding chaos for the shared experience of song.

"They just started clapping and dancing," said Sophia, 49. "It's like the music is a key that just opens their hearts."

Contact Amy Hebert at heberta@dailycamera.com or (303) 473-1329.