Traditionally, Arabic music has always been best suited for live performance. As highly improvisational music, it is still understood that every live musical performance of traditional Arabic music is a living and breathing creature, subject to the performers’ passions of the moment, as well as the audience/musician interaction. It is rumored that when the recording industry first came to Egypt, musicians of all stripes unused to recording in a sound booth would require one or two audience members to be present in the studio with them, as they could not imagine a musical performance without that essential ingredient of an appreciating, engaged audience. Whether creation myth or truism, this story of the Egyptian recording industry captures the spirit in which Arabic music of ages past has been consumed and understood.
I wanted to give the Afropop Worldwide audience an opportunity, while you learn of the music of Egypt and Arabic music generally through the radio shows that you will soon hear, to actually have the experience of one of these live performances. I’ve been a long-time volunteer for Alwan for the Arts, a non-profit organization dedicated to showcasing the best in Arab art and culture. What initially drew me to Alwan was its robust musical program, and these shows in October are an excellent example of the unique programming that Alwan and its curators strive to put on for the Arabic/African/South Asian/Middle Eastern music community.
On Saturday, October 8th, at 9 pm (doors opening 8:30 pm), Alwan will be hosting the band Zikrayat (led by violinist Sami Abu Shumays), and singer Youssef Kassab, to present a program of songs by the late great Egyptian composer and singer, Mohammad Abdel Wahhab. From the Alwan website, the event is introduced as follows:
Mohamed Abdel-Wahhab was one of the most influential singers and composers in Egypt and the Arab world in the 20th century. He was both a master of the traditional Tarab style, and an innovator who fused Arabic music with Jazz, Western Classical, and Latin music, experimenting with new instruments and techniques. He not only composed for himself, but wrote many songs for nearly every other singer in Egypt in the mid 20th century, including Umm Kulthum, Warda, Abdel-halim Hafez, Fayza Ahmed, Layla Murad, Sabah, and many others, creating a legacy that is one of the major pillars of the Arabic music tradition today. Youssef Kassab and Zikrayat pay tribute to this great master with a concert exclusively featuring songs composed and sung by Mohamed Abdel-Wahhab, and instrumental pieces composed by him.
Watch Youssef Kassab performing with Zikrayat:
For ticketing info click here.
Alwan will also be presenting an evening of music from Sanaa’, Yemen, on Friday the 14th of October, at 9 pm (doors opening at 8:30 pm). This musical offering is a rarity in the Arabic music scene in New York, and an evening sure to interest you with the various African, Asian, and Arab influences to be found in Yemeni music. From the Alwan website:
This music is performed by a singer/oud player joined by a percussionist, and focuses primarily on the poetry, which is sung in either classical Arabic or Yemeni dialect. Performances usually take place in homes in the late afternoon and evening where performers and audience members alike engage in chewing qat, a mild stimulant leaf chewed throughout Yemen. Distinct from other styles of Arab singing, the Yemeni vocal quality is generally high-pitched and features a fast vibrato. The ‘oud style utilizes a fast plectrum technique, probably based on that of the qunbus, a four-string bass instrument historically used to accompany singing before being replaced by the ‘oud in the mid-20th century.
Many diverse musical styles are performed throughout Yemen, from the African-influenced, percussive music of the Tihamma to folk traditions of Hadramawt in the Southeast and the classical Homayni style of the capital, Sana‘a. This form, inscribed in 2003 on UNESCO’s list of intangible heritage, dates to the 14th century and will be the focus of the evening’s performance.
Watch Ammar Mohammed Hayel in a short clip representative of this evening’s program.
For ticketing info click here.