'Our music describes our life," says ethnomusicologist Muhammad Abu Ajaj. "We have a tune for riding the camel and a tune for harvesting the fields, and another one for the bride coming into her broom's house. We have a story, a tune and a song for each situation." Abu Ajaj, who has dedicated himself to preserving his musical heritage, will be performing traditional Beduin tunes at the Jerusalem-based annual international Oud Festival, which kicks off Thursday, November 8. Of the festival's 14 concerts, seven introduce different aspects of Arab musical traditions, which Abu Ajaj says are being threatened by modernity. "Even at weddings, instead of ancient traditional tunes, we hear modern music with its modern instruments replacing it, and it's a race against time," he says. "So this festival gives us an opportunity to show what a wonderful heritage we have and to share it with traditional music lovers, like those who attend this kind of festival." Despite the Confederation House event's low budget of NIS 850,000, its favorable reputation is far-reaching:the festival is part of the European Forum for World Music Festivals and its artistic director Effi Benaya is the only Israeli representative at the prestigious WOMEX (World Music Expo). "This is a tremendous advantage for us, Israel being a place with so many different ethnicities and musical traditions still alive and appreciated," says Benaya. Among the international artists performing, is an oud player from Armenia (now living in the USA), Ara Dinkjian, in a special "Peace On Earth" program, accompanied by musicians from all over the world. In addition, oud player Samir Mahul and percussionist Itamar Douari will perform pieces that string together traditional Arab music, classical Turkish poetry and Andalusian music. Turkish music, which harkens back to the Ottoman Empire, carries a large part of the festival, including a program of maftirim - Hebrew and liturgic songs from Ottoman lands, as they were sung in synagogues for centuries. This unique program, which was produced with the Hebrew University's Jewish Music Research Center, will be performed by kanun player Elad Gabbay, with an ensemble of oud, nay (oriental flute) and percussion players as well as vocalists. Also on the itinerary is an evening of Ladino songs from Turkey performed by Janet and Jack Esim. Their musicians will close the festival on Saturday, November 24 at the Jerusalem Theater's Henry Crown Hall. Opening the festival is probably the most exciting performance on the bill, Barry Sakharov's "Tribute to Solomon Ibn Gabirol," the well-known poet of the Spanish Golden Age, who despite terrible illnesses and physical handicaps, wrote some of the most acclaimed verses. This world premiere performance is rooted in Sakharov's in-depth explorations of ancient music and poetry traditions, which have already given birth to some of his best performances. Sakharov's traditional and mystical music ensemble Hayona is slated to open this special concert at the Sherover Theater. The festival runs between November 8-24. All concerts begin at 9 p.m. For more information visit www.confederationhouse.org.

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