We generally like our Beethoven, or our Beatles, or even our Abdel Wahad, right? How many of us, though, dig both the Fab Four and Arabic music? According to veteran oud player and vocalist Emad Dlal, the two, and works from a very different area of cultural pursuit, are really not very different.
“I work with [klezmer] violinist Eyal Shiloach,” says Dlal. “I always play at the Klezmer Festival in Safed. Klezmer music is almost Arabic music,” he posits, going on to put his professional cred where his mouth is. “I am a musicologist. I can prove that from a theoretical, musical standpoint. All the maqams [melodic modes] of Arabic music are the maqams of klezmer music.”
Maqam is a musical element found only in Arabic, Persian and Turkish music, so the use of the term in the context of east European music really refers to what we call scales. But Dlal’s point was clear.
“They are either Hijaz maqams, which in Hebrew are called Ahava Rabba,” he continues, “Or they can be the Kurd maqam, which is [the] Phrygian [scale].”
The latter is an accommodating element which features in Indian, Middle Eastern, Eastern European, Central Asian and Flamenco music.
Dlal knows what he is on about. He has been active on the national music scene for nigh on four decades. Perhaps more to the point, he is an educator, too. In fact, Dlal has several strings to his professional musical bow.
“I am a senior lecturer at the Safed Academic College, in the Arts and Music Department,” he notes. “I have been there since 2006.”
The 54-year-old Galilean musician is on the roster of this year’s Jerusalem International Oud Festival, the 18th edition of which will take place November 2-9, under the aegis of Confederation House and its CEO and artistic director Effie Benaya.
Dlal’s November 5 concert, at the festival’s base venue, should provide a convincing point in case when he teams up with leading klezmer clarinetist Hanan Bar-Sela in a show called Klezmer in the Hijaz Scale. Bar-Sela is one of the leading lights of the national klezmer scene, serving a long stint as musical director of International Klezmer Festival in Safed and currently holding the equivalent position at the Jerusalem Klezmer Festival. For their Oud festival show they will be joined by Gilad Catz on electric piano and percussionist Eitan Mendelson.
It all started for Dlal, who also composes and serves as conductor of the Maalot Tarshiha Andalusian Orchestra, over 40 years ago. Growing up in a musical family he first laid his hands on an oud at the age of 12.
“My father was a musician and we all played music. We had an ensemble called Stars of the Future,” he explains.
As prescient titles go that takes the biscuit.
“I have four brothers and a sister. She is a singer. We played at weddings and similar events.”
Dlal initially fed off a purely Arabic musical diet but gradually began to tap into different cultural sensibilities, and disciplines.
“When I was in 10th grade, every night I’d listen to classical music on the TV. I was drawn to Western classical music and I started to buy cassettes of works by Beethoven, Mozart, Bach and all the others. That greatly widened my musical horizons,” he says.
The Beatles, Michael Jackson and other pop and rock acts were also eagerly embraced by the young Dlal.
“You can learn from anything, and take it into what you do,” he continues. “You have to keep an open mind.”
And open ears, he could have added.
It also influenced the way he approached his hands-on musicianship.
“That definitely also impacted on the way I related to the oud. It added a mindset dimension from a musical viewpoint.”
One of the basic differences between Arabic and Western classical music is the matter of harmony. The former does not incorporate harmonic sonics, while it is one of the staple elements of European classical music. Still, Dlal notes there were several areas where the two art forms can happily fuse.
“You can adopt the ideas of Western composition, and use them in Eastern music,” he says, adding that also relates to the voids betwixt the sounds.
“You need to look at the intervals between the notes. I look at the musical interval and its impact on the listener’s soul. I realized I could control the listener’s emotions.
That influenced my playing and I gradually began to develop my own personal style.”
That business of the spaces, of the “call” that precedes the “response” was a prominent feature of, for example, the mesmerizing performances of legendary Egyptian singer Umm Kulthum. She would toy with her audiences, often prolonging passages in an almost excruciating manner, and repeating them time and again until she eventually put her audience out of its blessed “misery” with some delectable musical closure. That, says Dlal, is a basic component of non-Arabic music too.
“In the West, the musician defers the climax, and then resolves it. You hold the listener as long as you can.”
Over the years Dlal has enjoyed fruitful synergies with all kinds of artists from outside the Arabic fold, including stellar veteran pop singer and keyboardist Shlomo Gronich and purveyors of liturgical sounds, too. Dlal’s global touring CV to date takes in showings in Moscow and Krakow, alongside preeminent paytan Rabbi Haim Louk, as well as a moving performance at Auschwitz.
There has also been confluences with jazz artists which, considering the improvisational aspect of jazz and Arabic music, melodic and harmonic differences notwithstanding, makes them comfortable bedfellows in the hands of competent artists.
“I get on with everyone, with all musicians,” says Dlal with a laugh. “What is music anyway? It is a collection of sounds which you rearrange each time, and play them differently.
That’s all. There are a few different rules of organization here and there but, basically, in Persian, Indian, Arabic or Western music you just move the rules around.”
Sounds simple enough.For more information about the Jerusalem International Oud Festival: *6226, (02) 623- 7000, http://tickets.bimot.co.il