Mohamed Chairi, better known as Chairi Al Andaloussi, is the artistic leader of the Amsterdam Andalusia Orchestra. He started playing violin in his teens. By getting further into the Andalusian music style, he also got to know more about the Arabic Golden ages. Four years ago, five young men met each other. They shared one big love: the Andalusian music. Led by Mohsin Al Haddad, a well-known music teacher from the Conservatory of Tetouan who settled down in the Netherlands, the Amsterdam Andalusia Orchestra was born.
It’s just beautiful to see how we attract such a mixed audience. White people, but also Turkish and Moroccan audiophiles. Of all ages. In Morocco, the Andalusian music is known as music for the elite, you could compare it with classical music. So it was hardly attracting youngsters while we had a young audience straight from the beginning. Plausibly because we’re young guys ourselves. It was something different.
The neighbourhood changed in a positive sense. While I was young, this area (Westerpark) was a tough place to grow up: mostly known for the many junkies and everything that leads to that. But through the years they invested quite a lot in the neighbourhood. Because of that, it became more expensive, but at the same time I also received more art and culture in return. I like that. Also the West area is now more attractive to so-called ‘hipsters’. I guess that the more mixed your neighbourhood is, the more mixed your group of friends will be. And in the end this will lead to more understanding and less fear.
Honestly, I still notice this 'we vs them' attitude strongly in the Netherlands. Mostly fed by the media, where people are led by ignorance and just groundlessly believe everything they see or hear, without questioning themselves. Sometimes I do notice that I’m judged just on my appearance. That you see them think: ‘Oh, another of these Moroccan boys again.’
The history of Andalusia shows a different side of the Arabic culture. Our history already knows a successful form of integration. In that age, Jews, Christians and Arabs just closely lived together. It was Enlighted by an Andalusian culture characterized by science, philosophy and astronomy. It was a time that was inspired by the Islam too. There was a positive vibe. The fashion culture, the music, the pyjama, even the Western table manners were influenced by those Golden Ages. Also known as the Nine Golden Ages of Andalusia. These are the stories I would like to tell people through our Orchestra. We would like to introduce people with positive narratives on the Arabic world.
Both the Koran and the Hadith (the sayings of the Prophet) are the main sources for the Muslims to get their knowledge from. But next to this you should also look for further deepening yourself. Especially history is a very valuable source to place things within the right context. If you look at the three main religions, I don’t believe that there is only one religion that encourages evil within human beings. For me religion is all about peace in the end. But history shows that where power and money comes together, religion is getting used or actually abused to gain even more power. So they search for weak brothers that feel unheard and seek for understanding by these so-called religious scholars. Today, not many boys know how to speak Arabic, and therefore are more easily misled.
I think it’s ridiculous that I have to implicitly express that I’m against IS. I’m just Mohamed Chairi, born and raised in Amsterdam, already for 31 years. I consider myself first and foremost as an Amsterdammer. Why am I linked to the IS anyway? I’m an Arab, but this whole matter feels so far away for us. It’s a totally different culture, with other norms and values. A culture that actually fits nowhere, and a lot of Arabs don’t feel attached to it at all.
Morocco has changed, and my parents recognize this too. Honestly, based on the stories of my parents I don’t think they integrate at all. If you can’t read or write, it’s also very challenging. Actually, it’s almost as if they had stood still in time. They moved to the Netherlands, and after that they didn’t really develop themselves anymore. In Morroco, people did develop themselves. Let’s do not forget that the first generation did really work hard and there are still enough examples of people that did integrate properly. The big cities in Morocco have become modern metropolis. Even woman are now occupying these powerful positions within the Parliament. Something the Netherlands could take example from.
Maurino Alarcón is manager at the Milkeyway, the music venue, but chiefly he’s a musician. Already for seven years he’s been writing music and lyrics for his band TenTemPiés. Music that is best described as both socially critical and festive. Life should be celebrated, but in a conscious way.
His parents fled from Chilli to the Netherlands in 1973. They didn’t want to leave, but my dad was threatened to be killed. This everlasting desire to return is something I adopted from them. Although I did settle down in Amsterdam, my Chilean roots influenced my identity very strongly. During my childhood I romanticized Chilli quite a lot I guess. It was such an eye- opener when I lived for a while in Chilli. During that time I realized I wasn’t that Chilean as I thought I was. Differences in the way I danced, how I walked and the way I dressed.
If people ask me where I’m from I always respond with Chilean. And when they hear that I was born and raised up here they reply with the comment that I’m just Dutch actually. But I don’t really feel like that. So sometimes I do answer that question with the fact that I’m Chilandais. A bit of both. But I’m also an Amsterdammer.
As I’m getting older, I also experience less stereotyping. Perhaps because now I dress up less like a crook. Though, it still does happen that when I’m waiting for the bus, elderly women grab their bag tighter. Only when I’m consciously thinking about what is exactly happening, it does touch me.
My basic believe is based on politics. If you ask me, religion destroyed so much in Latin America. Every time religion, as an institute, is interfering with the politics of a country, I do consider that as fascist. I find it beautiful when people truly believe in something, if that gives them some fulfilment. And it doesn’t have to be a religion, it can be anything.
The spirit of time
Today’s Zeitgeist I would describe as individualistic, rushed and superficial. This rushing and superficiality I notice in the music for example, when people advice to rather make an EP instead of a whole album. But I appreciate albums that tell a whole story, with a beginning, mid and end. I wouldn’t argue that I’m totally innocent in this whole process, I do participate in it like others, but I am conscious about the side effects.
We live in a system that’s based on making profit. Consequently we’re destroying the earth. Pollution is taking place because it’s cheaper to dump our waste instead of finding a more responsible answer for it. Probably our society needs to ruin itself first before we can step into a new system. And I don’t think it will happen so quickly because you got all these ‘social patches’ to keep people enough satisfied to really change. I got my faith established in the fact that whenever a fascistic party will lead us like the one of Wilders, this huge left backlash will arise.
Every time I watch the news I do get the impression our generation is not that open minded towards other cultures I’m afraid. Nevertheless, when I look around in Amsterdam I do see this multicultural society. Perhaps because I personally feel part of it.
Amsterdam West for example, is this great mix between crazy squatters, anarchists, funny weirdo’s and yuppen. For me Amsterdam should always be for everyone.
The problem is that the city centre is now mostly occupied by the rich. Everything is getting privatized. If we don’t watch out, we will have a similar situation in Amsterdam compared to London and Paris: that only the rich can afford to live in the city centre and the socially weak in the periphery. That’s not what we want.
Umar was raised and born in Amsterdam West. His parents are originally from Pakistan. He studies social work and has an internship at a non profit company that organises activities for the refugees. Next to this he would like to develop his skills as graphic designer. Together with his wife he likes to travel all over the world to discover new places.
For me, the Islam is more than just a religion. It is an absolute mode of life that influences every facet of life. Before I rediscovered my religion, I was this typical average youngster, always hanging around somewhere outside with friends, occupied with silly things. But in the end it didn’t give me any fulfilment. Of course, I could have chosen for yoga or art instead, but because of the whole political situation in the Middle East, I found my peace in the Islam. The underlying sciences, the theology, the ideology, everything gave me a crystal clear perspective on things in life.
Within my family there was a lot of love for the Islam, however religion took on this more cultural approach. It sticks to the yearly fasting and the Friday prayers, the rest of our traditions were culturally inspired, and could sometimes conflict with the regulations of the Islam. When I chose to fully commit myself to my Islamic ‘roots’ it took my family a while to get used to that.
People have a very ignorant and superficial image about the Islam and her lordship. Like the religion only exists out of hudood (punishment): cutting off hands and heads. They don’t talk about our social, educative and economic system. A system that ruled the world over more than 1400 years, and could also provide solutions for today’s world issues. A successful system that once started in the Medinah and after that took over a great part of the world. From Indonesia to Spain.
In the Islam, making profit is not the thing. We don’t focus on that. Of course we would like to be successful, but not from a capitalistic we-need-to-have-profit-no-matter-what point of view. This is not the right mindset.
Grace and mercy are the two main pillars of this Islamic state that recognizes many liabilities towards humans. Both to Muslims and non-Muslims. An empire that notices many obligations towards both, like housing, clothing and food. You won’t see these daily scenes like in the US where homeless people are just left to their fate. It’s because of the lack of knowledge and incorrect references that people associate this Islamic state to something like IS.
I consider myself first and foremost as a Muslim. This shapes my identity primarily. All my values, behaviours and decisions I make on a daily base are inspired by the Islam. Next to this, I see myself as an Amsterdammer, strangely enough. Thirdly, I would describe myself as a Pakistan or Dutchman. Sometimes I find it a shame that people don’t really make that much effort to research themselves, or to truly get to know other people. Therefore, I very much value conversations between people, challenging thoughts or having a proper discussion.
Amsterdam-West I mostly experience as diverse. There is this mix between people, cultures and ideas. People are not so short sighted up there. That makes the West area more interesting. Of course there is crime among the youth, but you find that everywhere. I experience the neighbourhood as a very warm one, where people truly live together instead of just next to each other. And if you make effort to include your citizens there shouldn’t be that many issues.
Today’s image about the Muslim is so crooked, politically and negatively loaded; I’m just so annoyed by it. For example, going outside wearing my robe makes people look strange at me. Therefore I totally recognize myself in the subject this project wants to acclaim. Would they give me this look if they knew I liked art, was into fashion and travelling for example? For me, all these stereotype boxes feel just so simplistic.
Also I do feel that the media and governments are responsible for inciting us towards each other. Personally I have so many non-Muslim friends. And I get along with so many individuals, as long as we are like-minded in a way. With this I mean that we have this basic equality respect towards each other. Both Muslim or non-Muslim. One of my best friends is agnostic for example. Despite the fact that he’s non-religious we do like to talk about religion or the Islam in details. And because of these conversations, he now knows what to respond if ignorant people assimilate the Islamic state with IS.
Peter was born in Amsterdam, grew up in a smaller place nearby, and now already lives for eight years in our main capital. After being three times rejected to study Medicine, he decided to go to the Art School. He graduated as graphic designer. Now he’s not only graphic designer, but also photographer and artist.
We live in a time where people in the creative sector don’t have one clear defined occupation anymore. Some of us try to solve this by naming themselves: ‘ Fashion DJ’ or ‘Art Bishop’ whenever someone asks what they are doing. However, I think I just try to keep it simple by presenting myself as a designer. This definition is already quite broad and hard to specify: actually it could be represented in a lot of different ways.
I always try to keep my work closely to myself: to me, my best work is all part of this bigger story. Behind every project there’s this specific train of thoughts. That’s my personal mark. I do have quite a divergent bunch of projects, but in the end they all clearly connect to each other in a way.
If someone asks me where I’m from, my response would be Amsterdam. It’s an understanding that everyone gets. I’m born in Amsterdam, so I guess I’m also obligated to name that. Amsterdam is doing well. Eight years ago you probably wouldn’t want to hang out that much in the East of Amsterdam: there was just too much crime going on. But now it’s more clean and pleasant. I just keep my fingers crossed that it will not change into the next boring Old-South area in Amsterdam. I also lived there, and it was so boring. There is just no liveliness outdoors.
Although I’m personally not religious, I do recognize that religion is something that’s part of our society, already from a practical point of view. Although you might not participate consciously with religion, it’s already part of your daily routine. Like how shops are closed on Sundays, it’s based on religious considerations.
Personally I consider religion as follows: people live inside and outside. Everything from the outside reaches us inside, and influences how we feel and think. Religion is something from the inside, which is its origin. Either you believe in Jesus, Allah or the Buddha: religion goes from the inside out. You just feel inside what is good or bad. In that way, I’m not very different. And if I really don’t feel what is good or bad, I will use my friends’ reflections as a mirror.
I notice the fact that my friends are religious only from a practical perspective. Like when we’re having dinner and I have to keep in mind what some can or cannot eat. Actually it’s quite comparable with having vegetarian friends over. You just keep that in mind, and you don’t really consciously think about it so much. Just until the moment arrives that you have to make dinner for them.
I find it important to get insights into the heritage and context of certain traditions. To understand the story behind it. Traditions don’t just occur out of nowhere. One should question himself why it’s explained in a certain way. Not carrying out a tradition just for the sake of tradition.
Often people think I’m a foreigner. Especially in a city as Amsterdam, that is so international, people tend to approach in English. That brings something anonymous along, and I like that actually. Not the fact of being always anonymous, but that the possibility of it is there sometimes.
Spirit of time
I’m don’t know how to describe today’s zeitgeist actually. Perhaps because it is only possibility through retro perspective. I do believe there is abundance of nuance today because of the Internet. For example with Instagram: you see a lot of the same, but everything slightly different.
Traditional media acts like they’re very nuanced, but this is often not the case. Still, they have a certain authority.
About the future I’m quite positive. In the end, if you think things should change, you should just start changing it, just make something out of it.
Abderrahim has been living his whole life in Amsterdam West, Geuzenveld to be precise. Being twenty-two, he is the oldest of a family of nine children. Every summer he goes back to Morocco. In the Netherlands he feels like a Moroccan, and in Morocco like a Dutchman. But in every case, he feels like an Amsterdammer.
When I order food in Morocco, they immediately know I’m not from there. They see it through the way I speak, my skin colour, the way I dress or my behaviour. With my father, who is actually born in Morocco, they don’t notice a thing.
My family is very close to me. If I get married, I can’t think of living somewhere else than Amsterdam West. I will always stay in Geuzenveld or somewhere nearby.
Back in the days, West was considered like a notorious place. With a lot of raids and nuisance around. Now it’s different. Before I wouldn’t recommend anyone to live in this place, but now I definitely can. The neighbourhood is becoming more beautiful and mixed. Across my place, there is this apartment full of Dutch students. On the one hand I do appreciate it, at least it’s something different. But on the other hand they do cause some trouble from time to time: mostly in the weekend because of the loud music. Not that I’m annoyed by it or something, I just need to get used to it. In the end I do value a mixed neighbourhood a lot.
Through my religion I get motivated everyday again. When I wake up I have a certain goal: enter the Paradise one day. When you live your life according to the regulations of the Islam, you will enter the Paradise in the end. Only God can judge about this, so you never know where you stand in the end. You can only do your best.
I have been religious all my life. Perhaps I didn’t have that much knowledge back then. And my consciousness about the Islam is still growing day my day. Partly I get my knowledge from the Koran or through religious scholars. Because the Koran is not always that easy to understand. Even scholars who studied the Koran for years have still questions about it.
I will never force anyone to be religious. Because you should make that decision only if you truly believe in it, through your heart.
I do notice that people easily stereotype me. Actually, I’m not even surprised by it anymore. Back in the days, when I didn’t have a beard, I felt less stereotyped. Now I do hear people think that because of the beard I probably support IS or will suppress my wife.
Last time, when I went to Egypt with my little brother I had to sit down in this recitation room for one and a half hour. They wanted to know about my holiday plans and why I got this beard. I just answered them honestly and in the end they realized I wasn’t the one they thought I would be.
On the one hand I do understand that people are ignorant: the media manipulates them all the time. Because of that they easily link beards with IS and the Islam. But that’s just not true. Therefore I do invite everyone to just spend a day with a Muslim for once.
As long as I can just be a Muslim, I’m a happy man. I will never force anyone toward the Islam. The only thing I can do is to challenge people through discussion to get closer to the truth. Just do some research yourself once. Hopefully people discover the true message of the Islam.
Francesco has been living in Amsterdam West for 2,5 years; he started his own coffee bar with a friend, called white label coffee. A coffee bar with its own coffee roistering located at the Jan Evertsenstreet. Now he moved to Amsterdam North because of the favourable rents.
Actually religion is not something I’m busy with. My dad is Italian, and those are mostly Catholics from origin. So because of that I’m baptized, did my communion and even been shaped. I was personally motivated for all this, but after that I quite quickly dropped everything again.
Perhaps I’m too rational: I rather chose to approach things through science. Nevertheless I do believe that science and religion can go hand in hand. Some parts are contradictory though. However, during the time I studied Physics I did know some strong fervent Christian students who perfectly combined both.
During the photoshoot, Abderrahim invited me to join him for a Friday prayer once. I think that it’s super interesting. At least it’s something that has been on my wish list actively. Honestly, I do believe that you could easily approach any Muslim with the request to join him to the Mosque once, but by meeting Abderrahim, it was such an easy opportunity. I’m just very curious about what they exactly say during this Friday prayer, what their vision is. In short, what these Friday prayers exactly behold in the end. I could compare it with going to the Church. Also, I would like to use the opportunity to debate with Abderrahim about things, mostly because I sense that he’s such an open- minded person.
My dad arrived in the Netherlands as an Italian guest worker. Most of the time people thought he was Turkish. He did this typical apprentice jobs, not working in environments where you have growth opportunities. For example slaughterhouses, huge dry cleaners, these places where you have to perform very heavy physical work. What is he doing now? Five years ago he got a stroke, became half paralysed and lives now out of his health insurance.
I’m not that keen on putting people in a certain box anyway. Often people do think I’m a hipster, and they’re making jokes about it, for example how every hipster is claiming that they are not a hipster. As a response, I mention the fact that hipsters take themselves way too seriously, and already because of that fact I’m definitely not a hipster.
I don’t think this whole coffee bar concept is a hype. Having the opportunity to work somewhere by yourself with your laptop, and still being surrounded by other people, is a need that probably sticks around. You also witness emerging friendship between our returning customers. From that perspective it sometimes feels like we are running a community centre. But then for the hipsters. It is true that we don’t attract that many Muslims. I don’t know why it feels less approachable for them. Taking that in account, Bourgiorno could be considered a place that has a more mixed public. I will ask Abderrahim, who is barista up there, what his thoughts are on this topic.
I do really like Mercatorsquare. You see groups of Asians, older Muslims divided in a group of women and men, and Muslim youngsters. Unfortunately, you don’t see that many so-called ‘hipsters’ up there. You do have a lot of different café’s that all attracts their own people.
Actually, I don’t know any Muslim, also during my studies I didn’t see many around. Our neighbourhood is getting more mixed though. However, not that much fusion between people, more between the different businesses. In the end every one sticks to their little island. Like for example these call centres, you won’t see there that many hipsters.
From my own business perspective, it’s positive that Amsterdam West is attracting more ‘yuppen’, they form a great part of our daily customers. For example, these ‘yuppen’, honestly I found it always a lame attitude, they like to see their neighbourhood clean. So although they might promote good stuff for the area, they also oppress some bits. Like the old generation of Amsterdammers are less happy with all this popularity of their neighbourhood among these new groups, because it influences the price of their rent quite a lot and in the end it could mean they have to move.
I’m part of the store association Jan Eef, but striking enough there is not any Muslim participating. I honestly think that it’s a shame. Actually the whole board funds are regrettable. Again, it’s the white young, mostly male, entrepreneur who’s taking part of this association. But you can’t push it in the end. The motivation has to come from the people themselves.
Initiative / Concept / Art direction: Shirin Mirachor
Photos: Kasimir Szekeres
Styling: Veerle Kluijfhout
Video: Sam Golbach
Editor: Rosa Golbach (Dutch) / Melanie Cravero (English)