Kamanche karma

If you’ve never heard of a kopuz, hurdy-gurdy, lyra, lauta, baglama, kamanche, tar, tabla or cajon, you’ll hear them all at the International Oud Festival in Jerusalem.

oud festival 311 (photo credit: David Sekurl)
oud festival 311
(photo credit: David Sekurl)
The International Oud Festival, which began as a modest two-day affair at Jerusalem’s Confederation House, has grown impressively over the years. Besides featuring our own ethnic music finest, the event has drawn some big names from across the globe, including the likes of Turkish-born multi-instrumentalist Omar Farouk Tekbilek, Armenian-American oud player Ara Dinkjian, formerly of Night Ark fame, and electrifying Turkish oud player Yurdal Tokcan. The venue spread has also increased over the years, with shows taking place in Nazareth and Modi’in, in addition to Confederation House, Beit Shmuel and the Jerusalem Theater in the capital.
This year’s lineup, however, suggests that, 12 years on, the event has taken a down-scaling step, at least in terms of geographical logistics. All the concerts in the 10-day program (November 10- 19) will be held at the aforementioned Jerusalem venues, as well as the Khan Theater, and there is a sense that the festival’s artistic director Effie Benaya has brought the event somewhat back to roost. Almost all the artists come from this cultural and geographical neck of the woods, and even the artists who come from farther afield – Spanish oud, kopuz and hurdy-gurdy player and guitarist Efran Lopez and French-based percussionist Bijan Chemirani, who will join forces with Cretan lyra and lauta player Stelios Petrakis in The Black Eyebrows concert on November 13 (7 p.m.) – stick very much to this side of the musical tracks.
The other major import this year is Turkish-Kurdish singer Aynur Dogan, who goes by her given name. Aynur isan emotive performer whose insistence on singing in Kurdish has landed her in political hot water with the Turkish authorities. Her debut album, Keca Kurdan, was actually banned by a court order for several months. She will close the festival, at the Jerusalem Theater on November 19, with a five-piece instrumental band in tow.
The local section of the festival program is rich, indeed. Rocker Meir Banai, who opens the festival at the Jerusalem Theater (November 10 at 9 p.m.), is the only “extraneous” item on the roster, while the My Sweet Canary show (November 12 at 9:30 p.m.) takes in Greek music, with Yasmin Levy joining forces with Martha Frintzila from Greece and Mehtap Demir from Turkey in a tribute to iconic Jewish Greek rebetika singer Roza Eskenazi.
Violet Salameh is always a popular feature at the festival. This year she will lend her formidable vocals to the Popular Duets in Arabic Classics slot when she fronts the Tarshiha Orchestra at a concert at the Jerusalem Theater (November 15 at 8:30 p.m.). Other notable ventures include the A Few Corrections concert (November 16 at 9 p.m.), with singer Esti Kenan Ofri leading an instrumental quartet in a program that marries Arabic music and contemporary poetry, veteran oud player-violinist Taiseer Elias’s synergy with percussionist Zohar Fresco, flutist Amir Milstein and bass player Emanual Mann (November 17 at 9 p.m.), while Galilean singer Amal Murkus will perform material from her latest album Bghani (I Sing) (November 13 at 9:30 p.m.).
One of the most intriguing slots is the Musical Fantasy: Circle concert (November 14 at 9:30 p.m. at Beit Shmuel), fronted by 29-year-old baglama and kamanche player Mark Eliyahu, who will team up with his celebrated father tar player Piris Eliyahu, percussionist Erez Monk, pianist Omri Mor, bassist Gilad Efrat and vocalist Liat Zion. Despite his relatively tender years, Mark Eliyahu has been on the scene for quite some time. He released his debut album, Voices of Judea, in 2005 and has collaborated on numerous projects, including recordings with his father and performing with Idan Raichel. He has also worked with the likes of Rita and spends much of his time composing movie soundtracks.
He says he is excited by the prospect of playing at the oud festival. “I have wanted to play with [pianist] Omri Mor for quite a while,” says Eliyahu. “We had a rehearsal, and it went really well. He is so talented.”
The inclusion of Mor certainly stretches the cultural and genre breadth of the band, as he made his name for some years as a jazz musician before turning more in the direction of Andalusian music. Meanwhile, Monk plays percussion instruments from a very broad spectrum of cultural sources, including Middle Eastern instruments, tabla and South American drum cajon.
Eliyahu himself brings a varied musical upbringing to his work. He started out on classical violin at the age of four before going through an early teen years rebellion. “I played rock and electronic music and even trance,” he recalls. “I got into bands like King Crimson – whom my dad liked, so that was okay – and Genesis and Nirvana. I made a lot of noise, but it eventually passed.”
That must have been a testing time for his father, a highly respected classically trained ethnic musician who was born in Dagestan, and Eliyahu’s classical pianist mother. “They just gave me my head, and I got it out of my system.”
Part of the ethnic music was inspired by his dad’s students and by a burgeoning social scene. “My father taught all these guys who’d been to India and come back to Israel to learn to play music. I like the music they played and I liked hanging out with them.”
After that, it was all ethnic music systems go for young Eliyahu. At 16 he went to Greece to spend some time furthering his youthful talents under the aegis of stellar Irish-born Cretan lyra player Ross Daly, where he learned to play the baglama, followed by another artistic sojourn to Azerbaijan to study the kamanche. He made his stage and recording debuts soon after that and has since established himself as one of the top ethnic musicians in the country.
Over the years father and son Eliyahu have worked together closely, and the Musical Fantasy: Circle concert is very much a joint effort. “We will perform pieces by my father and some of mine. I draw a lot of inspiration from him,” notes Eliyahu Jr.
For more information about the International Oud Festival: www.confederationhouse.org and (02) 624-5206. For tickets: www.bimot.co.il and *6226 Zaza Miminushvili (Juliana Voloz) Mark Eliyahu (Namiko Kituara)