Jordan’s veteran musicians revive Arab song

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Salwa Al-Aas, a 74-year-old Jordanian singer of Palestinian origin, performs during a concert with the Beit Al-Rowwad ensemble at Hussein Cultural Center in Amman on March 20. (AFP)
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Jordanian singer Mohamed Wahib, center, sings with the Beit Al-Rowwad ensemble during a concert at Hussein Cultural Center in Amman on March 13. Beit Al-Ruwwad, founded in 2008, celebrates the golden era of Arab music as well as Jordanian folklore songs. (AFP)
Updated 28 May 2018
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Jordan’s veteran musicians revive Arab song

  • Beit Al-Ruwwad (The House of Pioneers), founded in 2008, celebrates the golden era of Arab music as well as Jordanian folklore songs
  • “The old songs are different from those of today, and people who come to see us feel that they are transported into the past”

AMMAN: A group of musicians are causing a sensation in Jordan by reviving the golden age of Arab song — and not one of them is under the age of 50.
“I would give you anything for the feast, my angel.”
Beshara Rabadi, 62, sang the line to an enthusiastic crowd at a concert hall in central Amman.
Many instantly recognized the song of famous Iraqi singer, Nazem Al-Ghazali, responding with applause and singing the rest of the phrase:
“But you have everything. Should I give you bracelets? I don’t want to tie your hands.”
Beit Al-Ruwwad (The House of Pioneers), founded in 2008, celebrates the golden era of Arab music represented by Ghazali and legendary Egyptian diva Umm Kulthum as well as Jordanian folklore songs.
The singers, some of them in their 80s, wear dark suits and in some cases sunglasses as they play a wide range of instruments: oud (Arabian lute), flute, drums and accordion.
Each Tuesday, they give a free concert at Amman’s Al Hussein Cultural Center.
“Our goal is to preserve classical Jordanian and Arab music and provide a comfortable social space that supports original art and artists,” said the group’s founder and leader Sakher Hattar, 54.
A buzz spread throughout the audience as the group performed another well-known song about a girl leaving her family home to get married.
Women raised their hands while an older man span a cane above his head and tried out a few dance steps.
“I come every Tuesday, I never miss the concert,” said Russayla Bayzidi, 75, sitting in the front row in a white hijab and an elegant electric blue jacket.
“I love these old songs because they take me back to a beautiful time,” she said. “I relax so much when I come to these concerts.”
The group’s fans include people from across Jordanian society and the concerts always have a family atmosphere, said Hattar, who is also an oud teacher and head of the Arabic music department at Jordan’s National Music Conservatory.
He likes to talk of how the group was formed.
He had met officials at the culture ministry to discuss having veteran musicians perform individually at the annual Jerash Festival, which brings artists from across the Arab world.
“They were rejected on the basis that they weren’t able to perform,” he said.
“That idea hurt, and it gave me the idea of setting up the band.”
He set about gathering a group of musicians in their later years, including singers Mohamed Wahib (84), Salwa Al-Aas (74) and Fuad Hijazi (70).
“These artists still have a lot to give, they have a really high standard of musicianship,” he said.
In May, 10 years since the group was founded, King Abdullah presented Hattar with an award for the band’s role in supporting pioneering musicians.
Singer Wahib said the group had “brought together pioneers who gave a lot to Jordanian and Arab art.”
“I’ve been passionate about music since my childhood,” he said, adding that he launched his career as a singer on Radio Ramallah in 1958.
The octogenarian, a contemporary of Arab greats such as Mohammad Abdelwahhab and Farid Al-Atrash, credits Beit Al-Ruwwad with giving him the desire to continue.
“The old songs are different from those of today, and people who come to see us feel that they are transported into the past.”
But the group also hopes to reach a younger audience, said sexagenarian singer Osama Jabbur.
“We try to create a link between old and new songs.”


Middle Eastern art exhibition celebrates life and work of Kahlil Gibran

Updated 16 August 2018
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Middle Eastern art exhibition celebrates life and work of Kahlil Gibran

LONDON: What is it about the work of the famed Lebanese poet, writer and artist Kahlil Gibran that touches the hearts of so many people across the world today, decades on from his death in 1931? An exhibition of art inspired by his writings held this month at Sotheby’s in London provided an opportunity to consider that question
“Kahlil Gibran: A Guide for our Times” was organized by the peace building movement, Caravan, and co-curated by Janet Rady and Marion Fromlet Baecker. It featured work by 38 artists from across the Middle East. The vision for the exhibition grew out of a recent book on Gibran titled “In Search of a Prophet: A Spiritual Journey with Kahlil Gibran” by the Rev. Canon Paul-Gordon Chandler, Caravan’s founding president.
Chandler is committed to breaking down cultural, racial and religious barriers. Through the Caravan initiative he has hosted numerous exhibitions using art to build bridges between the Middle East and the West. He sees the message contained in Gibran’s 1923 book “The Prophet” as profoundly relevant today.
Speaking to Arab News at the packed-out event, he said: “All the artists in this exhibition are trying to express how they have been inspired, challenged and encouraged by Gibran’s themes of peace, love and harmony for all of humanity. The thread running through all the work is the unique role that Gibran plays in reminding us that we are one family.
“The idea of the Caravan movement is that we are all journeying together, regardless of background, tradition or religion,” he continued. “The arts have a unique role in peace-building between the Middle East and the West.”
Lebanese-Syrian artist Rana Chalabi, who was raised in Lebanon, said she first read “The Prophet” at school, but made a point of re-reading it several times before starting work on her contribution to the piece, “On Giving.”
Her painting shows a throng of people gazing upwards at a transcendent figure — the Prophet — who seems to shimmer above the multitude in hues of gold.
“To me, Gibran’s Prophet represents an enlightened mystic,” she explained. “He was so ahead of his time and such a spiritual person.”
For Chalabi, Gibran’s work continues to resonate. “The wisdom of Gibran is very much needed today,” she said. “He could explain his ideas in a simple way to people. In his day he was misunderstood and branded a heretic by those who missed the essence of what he was saying and took his teachings at a very superficial level.”
Chalabi was clearly pleased to have been invited to submit work to Caravan’s exhibition.
“I believe in what Rev. Chandler is trying to do,” she said. “We have to bridge the differences in the world and try to understand each other’s religions, cultures and perspectives.”
Bahraini artist Lulwa Al-Khalifa showed a striking painting of a woman, titled
“Blind Faith.” The starkly expressive figure looks perplexed and stares out from the painting with an abstract and tense expression.
Al-Khalifa said: “There are a lot of emotions I wanted to convey through this work. I was exploring the concept of faith and how sometimes people have to abandon some of the ideas that give them their own sense of identity and take a leap of faith. I consider the question ‘How much of you are you prepared to surrender for your faith?’ Faith is surrender with cause but without proof. Sometimes people have to face ambivalence, fear and anxiety on this journey.”
Al-Khalifa also stressed how relevant Gibran outlook remains today.
“I love how Gibran explored many aspects of many themes. His thought process is very fresh and modern — even today,” she said. “It is not rigid, but very hopeful and expresses love and acceptance.
“I really believe that all people are united as human beings. But we try so hard to separate from each other, even though in reality we all have the same concerns and loves and hates. We should come together,” she continued.
Lebanese artist Christine Saleh Jamil echoed Al-Khalifa’s sentiments. “Gibran means so much to me. Reading his book ‘The Prophet’ taught me a lot about life, how to live peacefully and accept things in a harmonious way,” she said. “His message is very important today.”
Jamil created “The Wanderer,” a captivating image of Gibran as a child, for the exhibition. Her work, she said, was based on a photograph and inspired by Chandler’s book, which, she said, “took me back to my childhood in Beirut.”
“That’s why I chose to represent Gibran as a child and in this image you see his face set among birch trees, as he loved nature,” she explained.
Lebanon’s ambassador to the UK, Rami Mortada — a special guest at the event — spoke to Arab News about Gibran’s legacy.
“The interest shown here tonight and the big turnout is an indication of how the message he stands for is relevant, badly needed and timely in our world today,” Mortada said. “It is a message of harmony and peace, of removing barriers between nations and cultures, and of interfaith dialogue. This is what Gibran encapsulated. If I had to sum up his work up in one word, I would say (it is) inspirational.”
Another ambassador, Dr. Alisher Shaykhov from Uzbekistan, stressed that Gibran’s work is of truly global significance.
“Gibran’s fame extends far beyond the Middle East. He is a person who has succeeded in transferring the spirit of the Islamic people in a harmonious way,” he observed. “One of his most important messages is that of the unifying elements, rather than the differences, between religions. He has a gift of being able to express the feelings of the people. The artists here, imbued with his spirit, have transferred his message through their artworks in their own personal way.”
Art enthusiast Mira Takla said she had attended a number of ‘Caravan’ art events and always found their message very persuasive.
“As far as I am concerned these events do more for interracial understanding and comprehension and tolerance of different cultures than many other such initiatives,” she said.
Another guest. Anthony Wynn, gave a good example of Gibran’s cross-cultural appeal, pointing out that he had often heard Gibran quoted at weddings in the UK — particularly a verse from “On Marriage” from “The Prophet”:
“Love one another, but make not a bond of love/Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls/Fill each other’s cup but drink not from one cup/Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf/Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone/Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music.”