Sounds from Arab Lands celebrates musical fusions

Artists to perform world music concert Thursday

REMIX: New Sounds From Arab Lands will perform in Slosberg on Feb. 28.

A shared spirit of musical exploration unites the diverse group of musicians behind the upcoming performance of REMIX: New Sounds from Arab Lands.

The artists will come to campus this week for a three-day residency as part of the MusicUnitesUS program, which promotes the understanding and appreciation of other cultures through music. REMIX brings together distinguished performers and composers from Syria, Lebanon and Tunisia who create music inspired by the cultural heritage of the Arab lands.

The public concert, part of the music department’s World Music Series, will take place in Slosberg Recital Hall on Feb. 28 at 8 p.m. Residency curator Ted Levin will offer a pre-concert lecture at 7 p.m.

“Their music brings together three beautiful classical traditions: Arab and European art music and jazz. They are creating new paths,” says Judith Eissenberg, professor of the practice of music and director of MusicUnitesUS. “As a musician, I wonder what music will be like 50, 100, 200 years from now – how will it adapt to and express what is going on in the world, within and beyond its particular cultural context? The musicians we’ve invited are great players, interested in exploring, reconfiguring, reimagining, remixing music across time and place. 

“They will show us that ‘tradition’ is not something that restrains us, but is the foundation for growth and change,” she says.

The New Sounds project was developed in collaboration with the Aga Khan Music Initiative, a program of the Aga Khan Trust for Culture. The initiative supports artists and artistic communities in the Middle East and North Africa, Central Asia and South Asia that seek to reassemble and further develop diverse expressions of a shared musical heritage in contemporary forms.

The players perform on both Middle Eastern and Western instruments. They are led by genre-crossing clarinetist Kinan Azmeh, and includes Syrian saxophonist, Basel Rajoub; and violinist, Jasser Haj Youssef, from Tunisia. Joining them are percussionist Khaled Yassine , co-founder of Lebanese fusion band Fu Jan Shai and Feras Shahrestane on qanun, a descendent of the harp. Together, they combine jazz, classical music and the microtonal subtleties and melodic modes of Arabic music. Their program will include works composed by each member.

“A sublime mix of spontaneity and control rooted in a thousand-year-old tradition of improvisation, this music is as alive and in the moment as you’ll ever hear, but it’s also fraught with history,” Levin says. “Moreover, it could only have been created by artists whose own musical journeys have zigzagged back and forth between the Middle East and the West in unique and remarkable ways.”

Ensemble members say even they were hesitant about the project, imagining it would be difficult to marry their distinct sounds but were ultimately enthralled with the idea of expressing traditional sounds in contemporary ways.

“These musicians represent a new generation of players who aim to achieve a balance of tradition and modernity, in their own terms. What can music teach us about how to achieve the balance of tradition and modernity?” Eissenberg says. “The tool that makes it possible in music is the art of improvisation. Improvisation is not simply making stuff up at the spur of the moment.… It is a process that is informed by carefully considered, complex, deeply rooted aesthetics and musical guidelines – tradition.”

Tickets for the World Music Concert are $20 for the general public, $15 for the Brandeis community and $5 for students. Tickets can be purchased online and in person at the Shapiro Campus Center.

For more information on REMIX residency, please see the MusicUnitesUS, or call (781) 736-3331.

Categories: Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, International Affairs

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