ara dinjian 248.88.
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This Thursday kicks off the first evening of the Jerusalem International Oud Festival. Now in its 10th year, the festival, which runs from November 12 to 26, has grown from a modest local event attended by a few hundred people to become the premier Israeli venue for Middle Eastern music performance.
The festival is named after the oud, the classic ancient Middle Eastern lute, but "the name is symbolic," says festival director Effie Benaya. "I started the festival based on Arabic music, but I don't want to stay only in the Middle East. With the spread of Islam, there was an influence on a lot of cultures - Turkish, Central Asian, Indian, Spanish, etc. - and I want the festival to have those influences."
Benaya also wants to reach a mainstream audience and showcase contemporary Middle Eastern music, not just "bring in Habusha," referring to renowned cantor Moshe Habusha, who performs Jewish liturgical music in a very traditional style.
Perhaps that is why Benaya scheduled the November 12 opening night to be a performance by rockers Nikmat Hatraktor of piyutim (religious poems) by Ibn Ezra, the renowned medieval Spanish rabbi. Nikmat Hatraktor, active since the late 1980s, is considered one of the best and most versatile Israeli rock bands. Its performance of medieval poetry reflects the larger trend of popular artists turning to the piyutim for inspiration. And according to Benaya, the band plans to base its next album on Ibn Ezra's poetry.
The performance on November 18 of South Indian classical and devotional music by mystically inclined singer Sudha Ragunathan and her ensemble is the most "far out" evening as far as the oud is concerned. South Indian music, rarely heard live in Israel, is quite different and more Asian in feel than the more familiar Hindustani or North Indian music, which has been heavily influenced by the Islamic musical tradition. No ouds here. Ragunathan has been performing since 1977 and has become one of the most popular female vocalists in the Carnatic, or South Indian, style.
However, the oud takes center stage on November 23 in the Top Trio concert, a one-of-a-kind and one-time only collaborative performance by three of the best oud players in the world: Taiser Elias from Israel, Ara Dinkjian from New York and Yurdal Tokcan from Turkey. Elias is internationally known as a performer and as the director of the Oriental Music Department of the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance. Dinkjian, an Armenian-American, is the founder of the popular and influential ensemble Night Ark, which serves as a vehicle for his melodic and haunting compositions. Tokcan is one of the finest Turkish oudists of his generation, displaying mastery of classical, folkloric and contemporary music. The three will be accompanied by Zohar Fresco, widely considered Israel's finest Middle Eastern style percussionist.
A very interesting performance of Byzantine music by the En Chordais ensemble from Greece is scheduled for November 24. The roots of Byzantine music lie in the music of ancient Greece. Although usually thought of as the music of the Greek Orthodox church, it is in fact a whole musical world of religious, secular, folk and contemporary melodies. The six-member En Chordais ensemble specializes in bridging the gap between modern and ancient Greek music, performing ancient hymns alongside modern compositions influenced by the older traditions.
The final night of the festival, November 26, presents one of the biggest names in world music, Omar Farouk Tekbilek and ensemble. Tekbilek, one of the foremost exponents of Turkish Sufi and folk music, has been collaborating with Western producers for more than 20 years to create a series of recordings that are a unique blend of East and West. An accomplished vocalist and a master of the ney (flute) and saz (long-necked lute), he is accompanied for this concert by his touring band of musicians from Turkey, Greece and the US.
The full schedule of concerts and venues can be found at www.confederationhouse.org and contains many other interesting events, including a collaboration between Greek and Persian musicians, an evening of Peretz Eliyahu's Kabbala-inspired compositions and a collaboration between oudist/singer Yair Dalal and roots rocker Dudu Tasa. Also scheduled are concerts of classical Arabic music, as well as performances by several young and creative Israeli ensembles.
This year's Oud Festival may well be one of the best yet and reflects well on Benaya's mission of bringing contemporary Middle Eastern music to the general Israeli public.
"Piyutim are now on mainstream radio!" he exclaims, commenting on how piyutim were relatively unknown when the festival got started 10 years ago. "Ibn Gavirol can be just as influential as Arik Einstein. Why not?"
The writer is a freelance musician who lives in Jerusalem.