Christian guitarist Jason Carter tells Russ Bravo how music has taken him where the West fears to tread
A British musician is set to achieve the unique feat of performing concerts in the three countries that were named by George W Bush as being ‘The Axis of Evil’: Afghanistan, Iran and North Korea.
Committed Christian and guitarist Jason Carter, 38, has just returned to the UK after becoming the first western musician to perform his own music in North Korea, and will next do collaborative concerts in Iran and Afghanistan this summer.
“I’m not an evangelist,” he says, “my job is to show God’s love to people, with all my failings as a human being, and that’s what I do. God has used the power of music to break down barriers between people and to build bridges.”
It all started for Cornwall-born Jason when his parents bought him a guitar for his ninth birthday. Encouraged early on at church to get involved in music, it wasn’t long before he was writing songs and taking part in worship.
Moving to London to find work around the age of 20, he took a succession of jobs before deciding to try to make a career in music. Encouraged by Noel Treddinnick at All Souls Langham Place, where he toured with the All Souls Orchestra, he found himself answering an ad in The Stage for a guitarist in Dubai.
Jason then spent a couple of years playing around the Gulf area, and discovered a real love for Middle Eastern and Indian music, looking for ways to blend Western and Eastern styles. And it was a concert in Bahrain that proved the catalyst for a unique role for him, not just in the Middle East, but around the world.
“In Bahrain there had been a lot of conflict between Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims. I played a concert there with local musicians, and afterwards a government minister who had been there pointed out that there were Muslims from both communities in the same room, enjoying the concert, when the previous year they had been fighting each other.”
Jason began to see an opportunity emerging to take his music to places as a way of building bridges, breaking down walls and pioneering communication between cultures. The British Council organized a tour for him in Uzbekistan, a real melting pot of religions and cultures, and supported by Sir Sherard Cowper Coles (now British Ambassador to Afghanistan) he began to assume a role as an unofficial artistic diplomat for The British Council and British Government.
Since then, he has had access and permission to play in over 70 countries, including some of the most restrictive in the world such as North Korea, Brunei and Saudi Arabia.
During his travels, Carter has had the opportunity to play for heads of state, royalty and Hollywood stars including President Musharraf (Pakistan), Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum (ruler of Dubai) and Dustin Hoffman. He has also held impromptu performances in some unlikely circumstances: from placating machine-gun toting soldiers at 3am in Uzbekistan by playing Bach to a special concert for a group of head hunters in Borneo!
Witnessing first hand how music can overcome cultural and language differences and communicating to his fellow Westerners the quiet dignity of the lives behind the ongoing negative headlines in the countries he visits, is what inspires Jason to continue his remarkable musical odyssey:
“I believe music can build bridges and cross boundaries where sometimes words fail. I have experienced this countless times in many countries at different levels.
“There are Muslim musicians I play with in the Middle East who have said to me: ‘We are very happy that you have not tried to convert us!’ But whenever we get together the conversation inevitably comes round to faith and belief and we can have some very deep and respectful theological discussions.”
Carter’s music fuses Flamenco and classical guitar with a unique blend of influences that he has absorbed whilst 'on the road' especially from the Arabic and Indian regions. His new UK release The Helsinki Project – out now on The Naim Label – is a musical representation of his inclusive world view and features collaborations with other artists from Finland, UK, Germany, Holland, Australia, USA, Morocco, Egypt, India, Afghanistan and Senegal.
Seeking a quiter life when he is not touring, Jason has lived for the past five years in a Christian community around 100 km from Helsinki.
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