Girl power

Dassi Elad will perform a program of her own Arab music compositions, alongside Hebrew ballads and liturgical material.

oud player 298.88 (photo credit: courtesy)
oud player 298.88
(photo credit: courtesy)
Performing Arab instrumental music is not considered a female domain. While there are quite a few divas around - Oum Koulthoum, Ismahan and Fairuz, among others, have gained legendary status - it is difficult to think of a single female instrumentalist who has made her mark on the Arab music scene. Oud player Dassi Elad hopes to redress that state of affairs, at least to a degree. On Thursday (8:30 p.m.), Elad will perform a program of her own Arab music compositions, alongside Hebrew ballads and liturgical material, at Jerusalem's Confederation House. She will be accompanied by longtime cohort Yuval Tubi on guitar, saz and tar (the latter are both similar to long-necked lutes), as well as Roi Semilla on kamancha (spike fiddle) and Rafael Ben-Zakari on percussion. Elad admits to being somewhat mystified by the paucity of female instrumentalists in the Arab world, especially on her chosen artistic device. "The oud is so round and tender," she says. "I think it's the perfect instrument for a woman to play." Then again, there is tradition to take into account. "Of course, in any religious society, it is difficult for women to express themselves in public. Traditionally, women used to play and sing music, and dance, for women. That includes during childbirth, which men didn't attend anyway." According to Elad, it's not just the Arabic world that precludes female participation in public cultural events. "Traditionally, you find that in Jewish and Indian society, and anywhere in the Eastern world." But there are also some landmines to circumnavigate in the West. Here, observes Elad, "the sex thing is so prominent," observes Elad. "Female energy is so overt now - and it is very powerful energy. All that gets distorted and becomes unhealthy. The female voice and energy can be dangerous. It can even cause wars." So, what to do? Should women be locked away in their houses, to keep them from causing mayhem? Elad feels it is not necessarily what you do, but how you do it. "I try to offer tenderness, and perform songs from the heart and soul to other people's heart and soul. Female energy can come across on different levels." Elad dips into Indian culture - she studied music there for three years - to further illuminate her point. "Shakti [the Hindu concept or personification of God's female aspect] can cause pain and can destroy, but it also offers a healing energy." In addition to Elad's sojourn in India, where she studied sitar and singing and the history of Indian music, she has traversed highly varied musical terrain in her 34 years on this planet. "My parents used to listen to rock and pop - the Beatles were always on the record player - and I also got into that as a kid. I also listened to Hava Alberstein and Alterman poems put to music. Words have great power, and that is an important part of what I do too. I am also a poet." At the end of the day, for Elad, it is down to emotions. "When people come up to me after a show and tell me how much I moved them, I feel I have done my work. That's my mission. I want to remind people of the soul."