A trio of faiths sing their commonality

Paul Clark

A Muslim, a Jew and a Christian walk into a concert hall …

It sounds like the beginning of a joke, but it’s the beginning of a concert called “Abraham Jam,” to begin at 8 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 26 at the Masonic Temple in downtown Asheville. Performing are Black Mountain resident David LaMotte, Asheville resident Billy Jonas and Dawud Wharnsby of Kitchener, Canada. In others, a Muslim, a Jew and a Christian.

The band formed in 2010 when anti-Islamic feelings were also running high among some American populations. LaMotte, who was working with the North Carolina Council of Churches at the time, came up with the concept of a band as a way to foster respect and cooperation among different faiths.

“It seems clear to me that if you want to make a cultural change on a large scale, it’s good to go to students,” LaMotte said. “And if you want to go to students, it’s good to go to music.”

He approached campus Jewish, Muslim and Christian student organizations in the Triangle area and put together an interfaith student committee that chose the musicians to be involved, as well as the name of the band. Wharnsby was suggested, as was Dan Nichols, an accomplished Jewish musician since amicably replaced by Jonas. All have traveled widely around the world, performing and creating some three dozen albums among them.

The concert at Duke University was well-received, LaMotte said. Abraham Jam has performed for the Festival of the Sacred Arts in Michigan and for the 2016 Parliament of World Religions in Utah, among other events and venues. It has three shows lined up for the fall.

“All three of us are songwriters,” LaMotte said, so in Asheville on Aug. 26 “we’ll be doing original music and some covers. All three of us will be on stage all night, performing together, but we’ll take turns taking the lead. It’s nice to share the space, to be a team and cooperate.

Jonas is well known in Asheville and around the country as an accomplished percussionist, guitar player, pianist, and songwriter, with infectiously whimsical songs and a knack for inspiring audiences to join in. “What a privilege to play and harmonize with two world-class musicians who have polished the lenses of their different faiths so beautifully,” he said. “I learn so much each time.”

“For thousands of years, in villages spread out around the world,” Wharnsby said, “song was a way for common people to share and pass along their stories. Today, when we’re so interconnected through travel and technology, it is important that we also communicate. We need to sing our world’s ongoing story together.”

Music is often used as a way of bridging communities, and bringing people together is especially important right now, LaMotte said.

“At a time when folks are rejecting each other and marginalizing each other, we need to demonstrate that it’s possible to actually work together and create something beautiful,” he said. “And we don’t have to agree about everything to do that.

“It is also a time when all of us need to be inspired and renewed. Because there’s no shortage of bad news. We need to remember that while those things in the headlines are true, better things are also true. Better ways are also possible.”

Tickets to the Asheville show $25 advance and $28 at the door. Order at abrahamjam.com. Snacks and nonalcoholic drinks will be available for purchase in the lobby from Fox Tasket Picnic Baskets and Hop Ice Cream.