November 19, 2009
The Sahra concert in Las Vegas is all about promoting peace in the world through Arabic music. Ft Hood and the 911 trials in New York were not exactly the most harmonious news stories to have drop in the lead-up weeks, but there they were. Also vexing was to have the passion and violence of the soccer rivalry between Algeria and Egypt come to a boil in Khartoum literally on the first day of rehearsals in Las Vegas. Khaled's band is mostly Algerian, and Assala's is all Egyptian. (Khaled can be seen celebrating at a friend's place in Vegas on a YouTube video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qbn2Fxj3iSQ)
But today, when Khaled showed up in the rehearsal studio midway through Assala's practice session, you would hardly have known there was any tension. Khaled waltzed around the room, embracing or shaking the hand of each musician. Sympathies and congratulations were extended. Khaled cracked jokes in Arabic, which I could not understand, but I sure could see the result: warmth and hilarity all around. There's a reason the king of rai is headlining this show.
Meanwhile, Assala sounded fabulous in rehearsal. Sitting in a tight circle with her musicians, she departed from the set list at one point to lead an extended, mostly acoustic, flamenco jam. Assala improvised lines while her guitarist riffed like a native of Seville.
Musicians continue to arrive. The program continues to adjust. The complexity of this event--in terms of cultural and stylistic contrasts, and potential ego clashes--is rather mind-boggling. But one senses that it will all work out in the end. There are rumors of some pretty exciting surprise guests, but I'm not dropping any names until they actually appear on the stage. The stage, by the way, is looking quite gorgeous now, with lush lighting, and massive faux chandeliers hanging before it. Tomorrow the action moves there for a full run-through. Stay tuned...