Ethnic music is not just about flowing clothes and unfamiliar instruments. The seventh annual Oud Festival will kick off at Tzavta in Tel Aviv on Sunday with a program that reflects many facets of the ethnic music world. The five-day event encompasses a range of musical strains and artistic styles, from hard-core traditionalists to rappers, rockers and pop artists, with some belly dancing thrown in for good visual measure. As this festival and its older sibling that takes place at the Confederation House in Jerusalem have shown over the years, there is more to eastern music than initially meets the eye and ear. There are, for example, marked differences between material that originates from, say, Yemen when compared with Iraq. Then there's Andalusian music that fuses Jewish, Arabic and Christian elements from Spain and North Africa, heavily spiced with localized seasoning. Plus, there's Ladino music, which culled its sound from local motifs and colors as it snaked its way through the Mediterranean cultures. Next week's Tzavta bash reflects some of that variety, opening on Sunday (at 9 p.m.) with a dance extravaganza, courtesy of five members of the Sahara City belly dancing school, and an instrumental ensemble which, as the festival blurb puts it, showcases "the cream of the classical works of the Arabic culture." The cultural spread expands appreciably during Monday's "I'll Await You at the Night Watch" slot, spearheaded by kamanche (Azerbaijani spike violin) and baglama (Turkish stringed instrument) player Mark Eliyahu and Persian-style vocalists Maureen Nehedar and Janet Yehudian. The instrumental support for the show takes in a multicultural range of eastern-style players, including Peretz Eliyahu on tar (Persian lute), Amos Hoffman on oud and Alon Campino on guitar. The joyous side of the East will, no doubt, come through loud and strong on Tuesday at the Mumtaz ("wonderful" in Arabic) Egyptian Hafla with a program of works written, performed and recorded by some of the icons of the Arabic musical world - the likes of Farid al-Atrash and Oum Kalthoum. The cross-cultural ethos is most evident in the performance by the Mabrouk Band scheduled for Wednesday: the Mediterranean Israeli Hafla - aka Local Chill Out. A seven-piece ensemble - including Charlie Sabach on oud and guitar, Ran Bagno on keyboards and accordion and Yaakov Lev Sameach and Noa Vax on percussion instruments of varying hues - will mix ethnic folk music with more electronic endeavor. Add to that guest appearances by crooner Arkadi Duchin and rapper Saz and you get a highly eclectic program. The festival will close on Thursday with a bang, with Shlomo Bar, Habreira Hativit and an impressive vocalist guest list with the likes of Tea Packs frontman Kobi Oz, Galit Giat, Yemenite songstress Ahuva Ozeri and Morrocan-born paytan Rabbi Haim Louk. Bar has, for the last three-plus decades, been at the forefront of east-west musical synthesis, as well as championing the cause of Moroccan music in a country that wasn't always open to non-western artistic endeavors. So it is entirely fitting that much of Thursday's show will be devoted to works made famous by Moroccan-Andalusian song pioneer Joe Amar, who passed away in June at the age of 79. "Joe was a wonderful singer and he helped to show people in Israel that eastern music is not inferior to western music," says Bar. "Joe came from a glorious Andalusian musical culture that, when he moved here [in the Fifties], few people in Israel knew about." Thursday's itinerary will include staples from Amar's repertoire, such as "Shir Hashikor" (The Drunkard's Song), "Barcelona" and "Perah Halimon" (The Lemon Flower). "Joe sang protest songs about, for example, the way people were treated at the Labor Exchange, but his protest was always artistic only, and never violent," Bar continues. "He came to Israel with mixed, westernized education and he inspired many musicians here from right across the board. I think he would have liked the tribute we're going to do for him." The Oud Festival will run August 23-27 at Tzavta in Tel Aviv. For ticket reservations: (03) 695-0156/7.