It's 2007. Conflicts around the world seem never-ending, particularly those in the Middle East. Enter Project Peace, a concert in Amman, Jordan — featuring reggae superstar Sean Paul and other great artists — to raise awareness of these current issues.
Power of music
Among these artists was The Sound of Reason, a Canadian duo consisting of Kuhyar "Ku" Karimian and Francis Fitzgerald. Both were born and brought up in Montreal. Both are blessed with charming features. Both are Muslim. Both are talented. And both truly believe in the power of music, and how they can change the world through it.
Motorola, which sponsored the event, brought them to Jordan along with their band members, Eric (drummer and Francis's younger brother), Johnny (rhythm guitar) and Haider (bassist).
I met up with the group before the show and, as we sat in a car bumping through the streets of Amman on our way to the concert venue, they opened up about their music, how they feel about being in the Middle East and about what makes them tick.
"I'm feeling absolutely great. I'm excited, I'm amped, and I'm ready to seriously just get on stage and black out for 50 minutes. And when I come out of it, hopefully I'm sweating bullets and people are going crazy!" Eric said with a bubbly smile. At first glance, you might confuse him with Ashton Kutcher — just slightly younger and with wild, blonde hair. This was his first time in the Middle East.
"It's absolutely beautiful."
Lead singer Francis, who recently converted to Islam, couldn't agree more. "We're driving around this area, and we don't see one single American chain restaurant anywhere. It's nice," he said from behind dark sunglasses.
"Yeah. Wow, look at that," Persian-born Ku said, as he pointed out of the window. "I like this, it's real you know?"
Ku, 24, is the rapper of the group and spits lyrics with a force that shows his dedication to what he and Francis believe in – helping people. But when The Sound of Reason was formed, it wasn't what they originally had in mind.
"At first, it was just for the fun of music," Ku said, running his fingers thoughtfully through his long, wavy hair. "That was a long time ago. When we got serious about two years ago, we decided we have this opportunity to help people in any way we can…maybe through music?
I mean, the one thing we can all agree on is that we are only here for a limited amount of time. With this time that we have, what are we going to do? Are we just gonna come, eat some good stuff, maybe, I don't know, have some fun…? Is that it? Is that the purpose of life? I don't know. It seems empty to me. What is your purpose? Figure it out. Do it," Ku said.
This zest for life and coolness factor was exactly what the Motorola team were looking for when they decided to present the band at Project Peace. Mohammad Chishty, marketing manager for Motorola in Dubai, said:
"Motorola is a youth-orientated brand, and when we heard about Project Peace we thought we would bring our own band. We hooked up with The Sound of Reason through MTV MOTOALERT — a programme, that showcases Arabic and Middle Eastern talent relevant to the region. When they got the crowd to sing ‘Hello Moto' I thought wow that's great brand activation that only The Sound of Reason could pull off."
Ku and Francis started making music in a shack in Ku's backyard. They write all their lyrics and music.
Their first album, The Sound of Reason, was released in 2006 and features such song titles as Help Me Change the World, Shoulder to Lean On and Living To Die. Their track Palestine was particularly heartfelt.
"The Palestinian conflict is a really, really serious situation. It touched Francis and me. So basically the song is just our hearts going out to the people there," Ku explained, adding that, thanks to the influence of his father, he decided to major in political science at university.
"I just realised that I really didn't know anything about what's going on around the world," he said.
Eric jumped in: "These guys sometimes will just sit me down for a good hour and tell me about a situation, such as Palestine," he said. "They take the time to learn and are willing to learn more and more everyday, which is different from a lot of other artists that can't walk the walk that they talk."
"These guys practice what they preach," he added.
Dusk arrived and the concert kicked off. They were the opening act and their performance was a great success. The crowd embraced the group, who spoke of love and peace while on stage. At one point, Francis asked the audience to hold a moment of silence.
"They were amazing!" said Eyad, a local Jordanian, who originally went to the show to see Sean Paul perform.
But he was particularly impressed with The Sound of Reason. "They had so much energy and great songs."
Music is definitely their outlet to the world and the perfect medium to reach out to young people. They don't seem to care about limits. To Ku and Francis, anything can be achieved.
"A lot of people say, ‘Hey, I'm only one person. What can I do?' You are looking at two guys who are touring all over the world in all sorts of places and we started in a shack. It's a matter of what you want to do with what you've been given," said Francis.
"Yeah. We don't have much, in terms of wealth, to give. So what we can do is give our voices," Ku said.
"People don't realise the power that they have. Like Angelina Jolie is doing an amazing job. She was in a position to do a lot of good and have people follow. That's what we're trying to do."
"Someone said to us one time, music is the language of our culture. The youth... that's what they follow. If you want to change the youth, you have to speak their language," Francis said.
And they certainly spoke their language at Project Peace 2007.