No cultural divide for Dalal

Eclectic violinist Yair Dalal will join top-notch guitarists at this year’s Guitar Gems festival in Netanya.

Eclectic violinist and oud player Yair Dalal (photo credit: EYAL TAL)
Eclectic violinist and oud player Yair Dalal
(photo credit: EYAL TAL)
Not too many years back this country was largely split by ethnic origin. There were Ashkenazim and Sephardim and, it seemed, ne’er the twain shall meet. But new generations came along, and east-west antecedents appeared to matter less and less, and then came the world music revolution which began to gather pace in the late 1980s and then just took over. It seemed there was no genre, no style, no cultural material that could not be fused with another to spawn “world music.”
Yair Dalal is a perfect example of an artist who has multifarious strands running freely and seamlessly through his work. Born in Israel to Iraqi parents, 59-year-old Dalal will strut his stuff at the “Pninei Guitara” (Guitar Gems) – The 9th International Classical Guitar Festival in Netanya between October 11 and October 14.
Like many of his generation, at a certain stage Dalal turned his back on his family’s musical roots, instead preferring the exciting sounds and raw energy of bluesbased rock. But Dalal eventually swapped his electric guitar for an oud, and added a violin, and he began digging deep into his family’s past, Iraqi music and, in fact, any eastern sounds going. He became a fixture on the globetrotting concert circuit, and has put out a dozen well-received albums to date. One of the highlights of his career thus far was his performance at the Nobel Peace Prize gala concert in 1994, honoring prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, foreign minister Shimon Peres and Palestinian chairman Yasser Arafat.
But, while we have become accustomed to Dalal merrily spinning out rich, multihued tapestries that take in sounds from the Middle East, the Far East and many points in between, it is probably fair to say that few ever expected him to join forces with a singer of Yiddish music.
The exponent of the latter with whom Dalal has been doing fruitful musical business for the past couple of years or so is Prague-born Canadian singer Lenka Lichtenberg, whose parents hail from Romania.
One of the results of their confluence is a CD entitled Lullabies from Exile, which contains a beguiling collection of songs from Eastern Europe and the Middle East.
While Yiddish-Iraqi cultural endeavor will not form part of the Netanya concert – Dalal will, in fact, perform material that feeds of a multitude of cultural sources, together with young vocalist Nuria and guitarist Danny Akiva – it is a signpost of where the violinist-oud player and sometime vocalist is at, and his continuing border-hopping line of thought.
“In the near future, over the coming year, I hope, I will work on a project which is called Babelusia, together with a singer called Nuria who made aliyah a couple of years ago, and she’s a relative of mine. She’s really something,” explains Dalal. “The project incorporates the roots of the Iraqi Middle Eastern music, of hers and mine, together with music from Andalusia. That means flamenco and the music that comes from the Middle East, from Iraq.”
For most, that would come as a surprise.
Surely, there is no common ground between Iraqi music and flamenco. While the latter is identified with Spain, Dalal’s musical roots seem to be set firmly in a very different part of the world, both in a geographic and cultural sense. It appears that the two genres share far more mutual sentiments than initially meets the eye, or ear.
“Andalusian music started out in Baghdad and moved to Spain in the 10th century and continued on to Mexico and South America,” he explains, adding that there are those who believe that flamenco may actually come from even further afield.
“Some say there is a connection between flamenco and the music of Rajasthan [in India]. But there are a lot of indications that flamenco comes from the Mediterranean Middle Eastern region.”
Dalal says evidence of the Arabic-flamenco link is there for all to hear.
“One of the strongest proofs is the cry that flamenco performers shout out – ‘oleh!’ And oleh is allah,” he says simply. Makes sense. “No one thought of that. When you take, for example, [iconic 20th century Syrian-Egyptian composer, musician and actor] Farid al-Atrash, and you watch clips and listen to his music, and you certainly hear him exclaim ‘allah!’, and then you see [virtuoso Spanish flamenco guitarist] Paco de Lucia play, and the guy sitting next to him suddenly shouts out ‘oleh!’, it’s exactly the same thing. You don’t hear these shouts in Rajasthan, you hear them in the Middle East.”
It is all a natural process of evolution, he says, with Indian influences thrown in for good measure, courtesy of the gypsies who took the music they heard on their travels between the Far East and Western Europe along with them.
This constant ebbing and flowing of musical colors from different origins will form the backbone of Dalal’s show in Netanya, but there is nothing new in that for Dalal. His recorded oeuvre to date features numerous forays into all kinds of cultural and sonic hinterlands. Take, for instance, his culturally monumental 1998 The Perfume Road release, in which he takes the listener on an odyssey that stretches from the Red Sea across to the Indian Ocean, while his 2008 Band Orient recording embraced jazz sensibilities along with the main Middle Eastern thrust.
“It is all interconnected,” notes Dalal.
“There is a straight link between western Renaissance music and Mediterranean music and flamenco, and the sounds of Andalusia. It is a sort of longer The Perfume Road.”
In addition to Dalal’s show Guitar Gems also features some of the world’s leading guitarists, from across a wide range of genres, including Slovak guitarist Miriam Rodriguez Brullova and Carlos Dorado from Argentina.
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