Joelle Moushati moved to the United States from Lebanon when she was four years old. Still, the Beirut explosion last August had a profound impact on the Denver-based musician as grief reverberated throughout the greater Lebanese community. And after a couple weeks of sitting with the emotion, Moushati, who performs as Tears to Light, sat down at the piano and began to transform some of her feelings into song.
The resulting single, "DI/ASPORA," is a melodic synth-pop tribute to the people of her homeland. The lyrics pay homage to both the resilience of the Lebanese people and the exhaustive reality of living through decades of political conflict and governmental corruption and neglect. For Moushati, the song is also an exploration of what it means to be Lebanese and part of the diaspora, especially in the aftermath of the explosion and with the current threat of Lebanon’s economic crisis.
Moushati was camping in the mountains of Colorado on August 4, 2020, when 2,750 tons of neglected ammonium nitrate in a warehouse in Beirut caught fire and exploded. The blast had the power of a 3.3-magnitude earthquake and killed over 200 people, injured 6,000 and made another 300,000 homeless. Government officials had been warned to move the highly flammable material prior to the explosion.
When Moushati returned to cell service after camping, her phone was filled with messages. And while she immediately assumed something had happened in Lebanon, the truth of what had transpired was more devastating than she could have imagined.
“I was shocked,” she says, and not only by the scope of the tragedy, but by the extent of her feelings. “It affected all the Lebanese worldwide, whether you were actually there or not."
The explosion exposed years of governmental neglect and seemed to compound the heartache that accompanies the mass exodus of Lebanese citizens, Moushati says. “There’s a constant wave of people leaving— all of the valued citizens and health workers, doctors and nurses. … Most people can understand that nobody wants to leave their country, the place they’re from. It’s a necessary thing. You leave because you have to.”
Moushati’s family left Lebanon during the civil war in the 1980s. They first came to the United States through a visitors' visa before traveling to Cyprus to obtain U.S. resident visas in 1989. She and her relatives ended up in Southern California because the weather there is similar to Lebanon's, says Moushati, who became a U.S. citizen at age fifteen.
During her twenties, Moushati began to study herbalism in Vermont, apprenticing with Rosemary Gladstar, a figure in the American herbalism revival of the 1970s. In 2008, she moved to Denver to continue her study of plant and herbal medicine, because she believes healing is a central part of her life’s purpose. In the past half decade, she’s channeled much of that healing energy through music. And after the Beirut explosion, she used music to help process her grief.
"DI/ASPORA" has an ethereal sound, shrouded in electronic dream pop. But the lyrics draw attention to simple yet unmet needs of the Lebanese people. “In this recovery/Will things ever be/The way that we want things to be/Standing in our dignity,” Moushati sings. “People want to be free/And people want electricity/And people want to know peace."
She has a sense that, in spite of the explosion’s illumination of governmental corruption, nothing will change. And the country currently teeters on the brink of economic collapse. The Lebanese currency has lost 90 percent of its value in the past year and a half, according to The Middle East Eye. Inflation is rampant, and politicians are struggling to form a new government that could help unlock foreign financial aid.
“[Beirut] was once considered the Paris of the Middle East, and then there was civil war,” Moushati explains. She hopes "DI/ASPORA" can shed a bit of light on that history and bring a greater awareness of Lebanon to Denver residents and teach them about Lebanese groups such as Beit el Baraka, a non-governmental organization providing shelter and food to those affected by the explosion and other tragedies.
“It’s a small country with a really, really big heart [that’s borne] the brunt of the continuous conflict in the Middle East,” she continues, adding that Lebanese are known as the happiest depressed people because they’ve been living under such dire conditions for decades.
And with that mindset, she adds, "There’s hope in the total disparity and anger and fear of what’s going on now. We might not see it in our lifetime. I wouldn’t call myself an optimist....
“I could be wrong,” she says. “There has to be some sort of hope, or we’ve got nothing.”
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