BRATTLEBORO -- There are plenty of reasons for people who are discussing the Middle East and North Africa to argue.

Religion, international borders, oil, foreign aid or military dictators, are just some of the reasons that otherwise rational human beings can find themselves screaming with and holding grudges against their friends and family members.

Yasmin Tayeby is looking for ways to bring people from all sides of the debate together.

Tayeby is an Egyptian-American musician with ties to Brattleboro who has started Izdahar, a nonprofit organization that is working to preserve old and emerging art forms from the region and bring artists from the United States overseas.

Yasmin Tayeby (submitted photo)
Yasmin Tayeby (submitted photo)

"People in the United States tend to know what is going on in the Middle East but there is a gap these days for seeing Middle East arts in the United States," Tayeby said. "I want to do something that is not political but that makes a direct connection between the two regions."

On Thursday Aug. 7, at 6:30 p.m. Izdahar is presenting a documentary, "First to Fall," which follows two young Libyan men who leave their homes in Canada to return to Libya to fight in the war against the former ruler Muammar Gaddafi.

The director, Rachel Beth Anderson, documented both intense footage from the battlefields as well as wrenching human interactions between the two friends who follow very different directions when they are confronted by the brutal realities of war.


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Anderson, a Sundance award winning cinematographer, and co-director Tim Grucza, will be on hand at the Latchis Thursday to answer questions.

The cost for the event is $20, with all proceeds going toward Izdahar and for Anderson's production company.

Anderson spent eight months following Hamid, 26, and Tarek, 21, as they leave their comfortable homes in Canada to fight in Libya.

The violence from the battlefield is brutal while the internal struggles and doubt the two young men face draw the audience in to the personal and international drama.

Tayeby's family has a summer home in Windham County and she has been visiting Brattleboro and southeastern Vermont since 1995.

A Berklee College of Music graduate, Tayeby has performed in the United States and in Egypt.

She founded Izdahar in August 2013 after working for two years in Cairo where she promoted concerts.

Tayeby said along with bringing artists from the Middle East and North Africa to the United States, and vice versa, Izdahar is working to encourage collaborations between the artists.

"Our mission is to strengthen the cultural exchange between the Middle East and North Africa and the United States," Tayeby said. "I don't want to present shows with a political message. I want to focus on the art that both regions share, and the collaborations that can be developed."

Last year Izdahar produced a concert with cellist Eugene Friesen, who worked with musicians in Cairo and then performed a collaborative concert at the Cairo Opera House.

Friesen also has ties to southeastern Vermont, though Tayeby met him at Berklee where he was her teacher.

Izdahar also produced a show which played in Montpelier with Fabrica, a group of Egyptian singers, who performed the score from Les Miserables in Arabic.

Tayeby now lives in New York City, though Izdahar is registered as a nonprofit organization in Vermont.

She said the film showing Thursday presents a unique opportunity to see an important film and talk to the filmmakers about the issues and process.

"I have always found Brattleboro to be cultural and artistic in so many ways. So many great things seem to come through," Tayeby said. "People there are knowledgeable about the arts, and about politics and culture. It seems like a great cultural hub."

Even though the revolution in Libya happened three years ago the Middle East and North Africa still dominate the headlines as conflicts in Gaza, Israel, Syria, Egypt, Iraq and Iran rage on.

Tayeby said as long as there is conflict there will be a need for art, and a need to discuss and debate the issues within a context of understanding and collaboration.

"So much of what happens in the region gets political and it is hard for people to connect with each other," Tayeby said. "People disagree because they are passionate and it gets tense, but art is universal and it has a language unto itself. Good art carries a message that you can't otherwise find in any language."

For more information on Thursday's event go to www.latchis.com

Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at hwtisman@reformer.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 279. Follow him on Twitter.