ThThis year’s Jerusalem International Oud Festival, the 18th edition thereof, will take place November 2 to 9, under the aegis of Confederation House and its CEO and artistic director, Effie Benaya. There are several of the usual suspects from the domestic crop of ethnic music in the mix, such as veteran violinist, oud player, conductor and educator Taiseer Elias, who will guide his 10-piece ensemble through a tribute to two of the titans of Arabic music – Muhammad Abdul Wahab and Abd al-Halim Hafez. The ensemble will be joined by pianist Sireen Elias and the al-Karawan Choir.
Other local leading lights on the festival roster include guitarist Michel Sajrawy and his trio, who will present an intriguing interface of Arabic music, jazz and rock. And there is oud player-violinist Yair Dalal, a stalwart of the scene, who will showcase some of the prominent members of the younger generation of oud players.
The lineup also features several foreign acts, such as the Egari troupe from Georgia, who will open the festival proceedings with a concert at the Jerusalem Theatre on November 2 (9 p.m.).
The septet’s gig promises to be a memorable and entertaining curtain raiser. In recent years, the ethno-jazz ensemble from Tbilisi has gained a reputation for revisiting ancient traditional Georgian music, taking in Georgian polyphonic song, folk song and traditional folk dances and combining them with jazz and blues improvisation.
Between them, the players bring a wealth of experience and an impressive disciplinary range to their performance fray.
“Group Egari was created in 2009,” says Alexander Khizanishvili, who plays a number of string and wind instruments, such as chonguri, duduki and the bagpipe-like chiboni.
“Before that, the group members were involved in various projects and groups. There was The Shin and Erisioni and Lashari. Almost all the members have formal education in traditional folk music. Some of them have classical music training, and others have a jazz and ethno-jazz approach,” he says.
While most people would probably not associate traditional Georgian sounds with jazz, Khizanishvili says that, in fact, the two are not very far apart.
“Georgian traditional music is full of improvisation in vocals, and there is traditional polyphony in an instrumental direction,” he explains.
He adds that, over time, the seemingly contrasting genres found ever-increasing common ground.
“Apart from the fact that Georgian music is unique, the elements of Western, Eastern, jazz and pop [music] are found in it. Georgian song is three-voiced, and all three voices are improvising, which is very similar to jazz. According to this, our music very naturally received jazz elements, and the merging process was absolutely natural,” he notes.
With that in mind, it comes as little surprise to learn that the Egari players are fans of such crossover jazz-oriented artists as bassist Jaco Pastorius and guitarist John McLaughlin, while flamenco guitarist Paco De Lucia also gets an honorable mention. You cannot listen to them and not be enchanted with their music,” Khizanishvili declares.
Most of the members of Egari were involved in the projects of the ethno-jazz group Shin,” he explains. “After that we created Egari, and three other members joined later.”
The mindset was fundamentally border-hopping from the outset.
“The main idea during the creation of Egari was to create a new and different direction on the basis of Georgian traditional music, in which Georgian folk would be merged with Western and Eastern music, as well as with jazz,” Khizanishvili notes.
The sonic side of the group’s work is augmented by dance.
Visual esthetics are central to the band’s output.
“Dancing elements in our shows are very important,” says Khizanishvili.
For the upcoming Jerusalem trip, the players will be joined by dancers Fridon Sulaberidze and Nino Totiauri, with the instrumental substratum overlaid by vocals courtesy of singer Bondo Tskvediani and singer-pianist Jaba Margvelani.
“Everything we play is shown in dancing,” Khizanishvili continues. “The main idea of Egari was to create a new direction in Georgian art. That is why we decided to merge our ethno-jazz music with Georgian traditional dance. With this, Egari has created a brand new direction in Georgian culture, which now has dozens of [acts] followers.”
The group maintains a busy concert schedule, which has gotten in the way of laying down their artistry on albums, but a debut release is in the making.
Khizanishvili says Egari operates very much as a collective, with all the musicians contributing to the end product.
“All members take part in creating the composition. The consensus is achieved by mutual consent, sometimes after hot debates, which is how the compositions of Egari are born,” he says.
The Jerusalem Theatre audience can expect a mix of old and newer material, as well as some first showings.
“We will perform our traditional ethno-jazz program, and we will perform our new songs,” says Khizanishvili. “In addition, some of the songs will be performed for the first time.”
Sounds like a cross-cultural blend designed to keep the patrons duly engaged.
The Jerusalem International Oud Festival will take place November 2 to 9. The Egari troupe will perform on November 2 at 9 p.m. at the Jerusalem Theatre. For information about the festival:*6226; (02) 623-7000