Dubai: Notes from the Qanoon, an Arabic string instrument, intermingled with the flute, violin, Veena, Ghatam, Latin drums and the guitar. The first piece of the evening was a rhythmic crescendo appropriately titled Take-off. The Indo-Arab fusion concert in Dubai, appropriately titled Aasman: Music without boundaries, took off on the dot at 6.30pm at the Shaikh Rashid Auditorium of the Indian High School last Saturday. Balabhaskar, the young and genial violin maestro, explained to the audience that the Dubai programme, organised as part of Kalabhavan Dubai's anniversary celebrations, was very different for him and his band called Thee (Fire), comprising some fine young musicians. They were attempting more of classical fusion; sharing the stage with the famous Iraqi instrumentalist Furat Qaddouri on the Qanoon, a string instrument.

Balabhaskar, a trained Carnatic classical musician, has metamorphosed into a singer and composer and has broken boundaries between classical and popular genres. His raw energy and personal magnetism lighted up the evening The second piece was a famous classical composition Vatapi Ganapathim Bhaje in Hamsadwani raga. The dazzling pace and unexpected turns by the array of artistes thrilled the audience. The third piece was titled Rush—symbolic of contemporary life. Balabhaskar's violin and Furat's Qanoon combined at the end; taking the audience to new melodic heights. The piece de resistance of the musical evening centred around the raga Chakravaka and the Thaniyavartanam or solo runs by the percussionists. The rhythmic dialogue between the artistes was engaging. When Furat's turn came, the Iraqi music that he played proved very lifting and at the same time haunting. With the virtuoso techniques by each artiste receiving repeated applause, the musical energy was enormous.

Balabhaskar, who was in a sitting position (considering it was a classical fusion concert), could not be restrained further as he stood up for a fast-paced finale. It was commendable that two rich musical traditions could complement each other so well. There was a pleasant surprise for the gathering when the award-winning playback singer Sujatha Mohan graced the stage to croon a couple of medleys from some of her popular numbers, with the youngsters from Kalabhavan providing the chorus. The programme also featured a short fusion dance programme by the best talent from Kalabhavan Dubai.
Krishna Kumar
Deputy Web Editor

The two passion oratories by J.S. Bach which have survived in their entirety, the St. John Passion, BWV 245, and the St. Matthew Passion, BWV 244, are considered the culmination of the Baroque art of expression and rank high in the Occidental canon of great works of music. Every year in the weeks leading up to Easter, they figure prominently in European concert programmes and  Christian religious life alike. No composer has conveyed the suffering of man, embodied in Jesus Christ, God incarnate,  in music in as striking and passionate a manner as Bach in these works.

Sarband confronts Bach’s passions with the disastrous present-day situation in Jesus’ native land, the Middle East, but also  with the conflicts between the Arabic world and the West, between believers and those who believe differently,  between the future-oriented and the tradition-minded. All over the world, regardless of their origins or religions,  people are suffering on account of these conflicts.

In his Arabian Passion, Vladimir Ivanoff, musical director of Sarband, compares Jesus’ suffering and that of the colonized Middle East in the time of the New Testament with the current situation. Bach’s Baroque precision and complexity meet the spontaneity of classical Arab music and Jazz:

two traditions which have a lot in common, for example highly sophisticated and structured improvisation techniques, but also two voices which could hardly be more different: that of the traditional Arab world and a new voice that is spreading through the world—the American way of life. Arab musicians, two jazz saxophonists and the Modern String Quartet have joined to reinterpret Bach’s passion music.

Western and Middle Eastern musicians find each other in the music of Bach. In a world full of differences and conflicts,
this musical cooperation creates an intense and contemplative space for mutual respect and peace. “The Arabian Passion” is a musical plea for peace. A plea nourished by the confidence which forms the basis of Bach’s passions:

that one day all suffering will come to an end. "Bach would have turned in his grave. Then he'd have stepped out, dusted himself and paid attention … The songs were most haunting when  vocalist Fadia el-Hage reverted to Arabic. At those times, perhaps, Bach also wept." The Business Times, 14.06.2007

It is Vladimir Ivanoff's strong point, to join cultures and to build musical bridges between orient and occident.  With the «Arabian Passion» … he succeeded in a brilliant way. Heart, mind, gesture and communication with the other artists  were merged into an intensive whole. … I could not have imagined more beautiful music for Good Friday.“

Franz Szabo
Salzburger Nachrichten

The qanoon is Furat Qaddouri’s main passion, whether playing in concert or among friends. Nicole Hill / The National

Furat Qaddouri is an Iraqi-born ­qanoon player who is based in Dubai.

I came to the UAE in 2005 for three months and now it’s three years and counting. I don’t know quite how it happened, but I like living in Dubai. I live most of the time at the Shangri-La hotel, where I play my qanoon every night from 4.30 until 8.30. I also play there with my fusion band. I like everything about the Shangri-La: the staff, the restaurants, the rooms and the service. My other home is in Duisburg, Germany, where my wife, and two daughters are. My wife is a ceramic artist and my oldest daughter wants to be a musician or ballerina.

There isn’t much to do in Duisberg, so apart from taking my family out to restaurants, I tend to go out with other musicians in Cologne and Bonn. I spend almost all of my time in Dubai, but I return to Germany for about three weeks out of every three months. I do a lot of concerts in Europe but my last one was in Singapore, so I travel a lot.
The main difference between Dubai and Abu Dhabi is culture. In Abu Dhabi they appreciate creative people and are always looking out for culture. Although I like Dubai a lot, it’s very different from Abu Dhabi and the cultural life is better there.

Dubai is always filled with traffic, so I find relaxation through my music. There are a lot of jazz festivals here too, so I enjoy those. My band is called Furat Qaddouri & His Fusion Band and in March we played at the Chillout Festival at the Madinat ­Jumeirah amphitheatre and the Dubai International Jazz Festival at Dubai Media City. I play my qanoon everywhere – in the studio, at my home or at my friends’ homes. Sometimes I play alone and at ­other times we rehearse together.

I don’t see it as work. I don’t have a set routine – sometimes I play for eight hours a day, sometimes it’s just one-and-a-half. But I always play a little bit, every day. Sometimes I go to do something else, and then come back and do some more. I also like swimming in the sea.
In Dubai I like the Blue Bar for its jazz. It’s got a great atmosphere and all the other musicians go there. We see each other and talk about the music. I like to meet my friend Kamal Musallam, the Jordanian guitarist, there. We played together at the Box@Cafe in ­Amman in 1998. He joined my band and we’ve been friends ever since. I used to teach music in Jordan and Amman is a fantastic city to live in. I also love anywhere with Latin beats. I like anywhere which plays live music. Peanut Butter Jam on Friday nights at Wafi City is great for the live outdoor jamming sessions. For food I like Trader Vic’s at the Beach Rotana in Abu Dhabi or Madinat Jumeirah in Dubai.
@Body-Answer2 :As a child in Baghdad I only listened to reggae, pop and jazz, but my father, who was a music teacher, encouraged me to learn to play the qanoon. The qanoon is not famous like the lute so it has been hard work to make it popular. Now when all the families ask me what I suggest for their children, I tell them to learn the qanoon. But still most people, including Arabs, are only interested in the guitar, piano or violin.
My interest in Latin America stemmed from a trek I did in 1999 through Cuba, Salvador and Guatemala. My album Spirit Calls was a fusion of Latin American, European, western jazz and pop music. It’s been about 10 years since I started mixing my qanoon with modern instruments, to make fusion music. I took a CD to Europe but no one wanted to buy it from me because it used synthesizers and other electronic stuff. In the West people tend to like the pure acoustic stuff, the World Music types. But in Dubai I had three companies that wanted to buy my CD, and now DJs are playing it at the Dubai Buddha Bar and other places.

I alternate between playing the qanoon solo and playing it with other instruments. I love to mix it with the electric piano, Arabic and western percussion instruments, and base. My next album, The Hanging Gardens, will be released next month through the record label Daxar.
May 11. 2008


The sounds of Arabia music festival starts today at the Cultural Foundation. Nicole Hill / The National
Don’t know your ney from your naqqara, your riqq from your darbuka? What about the qanoon, santur, djose and oud? If this list of Arabic musical instruments reads like a foreign language, a visit to the Abu Dhabi Cultural Foundation this week could improve your vocabulary. The Sounds of Arabia music festival, which starts today, offers six days of live musical performances, a series of Arabic films inspired by musical themes, a lecture on the evolution of music and an oud-playing workshop.
Furat Qadduori's father encouraged him to play a traditional instrument.

Isadora Papadrakakis, who is organising the festival with Abdulla al Amri, the foundation’s director of arts and culture, said their aim was to stimulate interest in Arabic music in a region where western classical and popular music still dominate. “There is a gap in the market when it comes to Arabic music,” she said. “What we want to do is to create a festival that will grow every year which doesn’t focus on popular music, but errs on the artistic side of the Arabic scene. We want to introduce new performers that people might not know well. We’re not really interested in the big names but in performers who are brilliant musicians.”
The Egyptian composer and pianist Omar Khairat.Papadrakakis said she was surprised by the level of interest in the festival from Emiratis. “We put announcements in newspapers and have had an enormous response from locals. People are dying to hear their own music. Hopefully people will travel from all over the Emirates for a fiesta.”

Sounds of Arabia will include individual performances from the Egyptian composer and pianist Omar Khairat, the Lebanese singer Jahida Wehbe and the Iraqi qanoon player Furat Qadduori.
They will be joined by Farida Mohammad Ali, who performs with the Iraqi Maqam Ensemble, the Moroccan oudist Tariq Banzi and flamenco guitarist Julia Banzi, the Al Fayha Choir from northern Lebanon and the Reda Folkloric Troupe, a combined orchestra and dance troupe from Egypt.
“We want to provide the audience with a big overview of the different styles of Arabic music,” Papadrakakis said. “Arabic music is very diverse and because of the influences from and on Western music, there is a surprising amount of fusion going on. We wanted to emphasise this fusion because it means that this is music that everyone can relate to.”

The Al Fayha Choir is composed of 40 non-professional young people from different social and religious backgrounds.
The festival also hopes to develop a wider appreciation of the acoustic performance of traditional musical instruments like the qanoon and oud, which some musicians fear will become obsolete if they are not supported. “The qanoon is an instrument very particular to the Arab world which many people don’t even know exists,” Papadrakakis went on.
“We also really want to promote the existence of the Arabic Oud House in Abu Dhabi because as well as being a school it houses fantastic musicians. We want to encourage different forms of musical improvisation and help local musicians to have a creative dialogue.”

Bait al Oud is located in Camp al Nahayan, between Defence Road and 13th Street (Delma Street) and is under the artistic direction of Naseer Shamma, one of the world’s most renowned oud players.
Furat Qadduori, a professional qanoon player based in Dubai, was encouraged to play the instrument by his father. The qanoon is a rectangular stringed instrument comparable to the harp. The strings are tied parallel to a wooden music box.
The singer Jahida will be performing in the 2008 Sounds of Arabia Festival this weekend.
“I hated the qanoon at first because my father was a teacher at the School of Music and Ballet in Baghdad and he pushed me to do it from the age of six. I told him, ‘No, it’s too difficult’. He said: ‘Trust me, there is nobody playing this instrument. Play something from your own tradition’.”

Yet even now, Qadduori says, too few people are interested in traditional Arabic music. “The Europeans appreciate it more than the Arabs,” he said. “My instrument is not very well known here because here we focus mainly on singers. We don’t have much of an instrumental culture. People just don’t like them. They say it is too heavy and they prefer the piano, the guitar or the violin. I find European audiences are much more interested in our culture. This instrument comes from Babylon and people in the West are fascinated to know where it came from and how many people are playing it.”

To broaden the appeal of the qanoon, Qadduori also performs with a fusion band, mixing traditional instruments with Arabic jazz, the electric piano, Western percussion and base. “I am now doing well in Dubai,” he adds. “DJs play my music and Arabs are starting to become interested. But I still like to put the qanoon centre stage, not sitting behind the singers.”

Tarik and Julia Banzi, who have released five albums under their record label Al-Andalus, will perform classical Arabic, Latin and Flamenco compositions with Charlie Bisharat, a violinist. The pair take as their inspiration the Spain of Al-Andalus, which Julia says “witnessed the closest encounter possible between Judaism, Christianity and Islam” between 711 and 1492. Tarik Banzi is a Moroccan-born oudist who grew up in the Andalusian musical tradition and holds a degree in fine art. Julia, an American, is one of a handful of female Flamenco guitarists; she also holds a PhD in ethnomusicology. While performing primarily on the oud (a plucked, fretless lute) and flamenco guitar, the pair also play the ney (a reed flute), the kamanja (a form of the violin), the darbuka (a goblet-shaped drum), the Andalusian tar (a small tambourine) and the bendir (a framed drum).

The singer Fairuz will be performing in the 2008 Sounds of Arabia Festival this weekend.
On Friday, May 2, Julia will give a lecture called “Music of the East”, which, it is hoped, will put modern-day Arabic music in its historical context.
“The music we hear today is an evolution of formal principles and adaptations which have taken place over thousands of years,” Julia said. “Many of us are familiar with the contributions of Europe and the ancient Greeks and Romans, but far less is known about the equally important contributions of the opulent courts of Baghdad, Persia, Cordoba and Syria. Here we find the origins of the first ever orchestral music, as well as the origins of most of all the instruments we use today.”

Of particular interest to Julia Banzi is the significance of Andalusian women’s orchestras.
“While the historical record is rich with mention of women Andalusian musicians of the ninth to thirteenth centuries, there is a void in documenting the existence and significance of women’s ensembles during the seven centuries that followed,” she said.“It is one of the longest continuous traditions of art music in the world, but with few exceptions scholarly literature on Andalusian music focuses exclusively on the male version of the tradition.”

On Saturday May 3, Tariq and Julia Banzi will offer a workshop of Arab Andalusian music with students at the Bait al Oud.
Farida Mohammed Ali, who was born in Kerbala, Iraq, and has lived in the Netherlands since 1997, performs with the Iraqi Maqam Ensemble, which attempts to revive the Iraqi maqam, a system of melodic modes which are used in musical composition and improvisation. Iraqi maqam texts were derived from classical Arabic poetry and the genre utilises traditional instruments including the riqq, similar to the tambourine, and the tar, a form of lute. The Iraqi Maqam Ensemble has produced nine albums since 2000 and its latest, Sun of Iraq, was released last week. Since the 2003 invasion of Iraq, militant extremists have been attacking musicians and music shops across Iraq.

Jahida Wehbe, who performs a variety of classical, Sufi and patriotic songs, has worked with dozens of prominent Lebanese composers and singers and taken part music festivals all over the world. She is preparing for a series of concerts in the Middle East and North Africa, Europe and China.
“Although my music mixes oriental and occidental, I rely on the maqam rhythm and tempo,” she says. “Arabic music is sometimes misunderstood by Western audiences, although we have to work to make sure it is better archived, documented and computerised to put it at the disposal of audiences.”

Wehbe has recently developed a fan base in Abu Dhabi. “Every day I receive letters from fans in the UAE and I have many friends in Abu Dhabi,” she says. “The emirate is similar to Lebanon in the way it deals with culture, promotes cultural activities and aspires to the future.”

The Al Fayha Choir was formed in Lebanon 2003 and is comprised of 40 non-professional young people from different social and religious backgrounds. The conductor is Berkev Taslakian. Roula Abou Baker, the choir’s president, said the group’s main objective was “raising the name of Lebanon and the Arab countries all over the world, and showing their openness to all civilizations.”
The majority of its songs are Arabic, from Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, Iraq and Andalusia, but the choir sings in several languages including Armenian, English, Latin, French and Spanish. It is preparing for a world tour.

Three music documentaries will be screened at the Cultural Foundation on Saturday, Sunday and Monday. Sacred Sounds (2000), directed by Carmine Cervi, is set in Fez and documents the ways sacred music is used to communicate and celebrate God. We Loved Each Other So Much (2003), directed by Jack Janssen, is a melancholy commentary on the history and contemporary state of Lebanon, told through the eyes of ordinary Beirut residents who share a love of the singer Fairuz. Improvisation (2005), directed by Raed Andoni, is a film about the Palestinian music group Trio Joubran. The three brothers travel among Ramallah, Nazareth and Paris, working, laughing, crying, arguing and passing with difficulty through checkpoints. The films are in Arabic with English subtitles.

Rosemary Behan

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