Middle Eastern Music In London: An Introduction

By AmyB Last edited 83 months ago
Middle Eastern Music In London: An Introduction

Inspired by our interview with bellydancer Jo Wise and her comments about the Arab music scene we decided to delve deeper into Middle Eastern Music.

So what should you expect? The melody, the structure and way that the music develops is totally different to Western music. It’s based on a modal tone system and is developed through vocal or instrumental improvisation, a bit like the style of an Indian Raga. Prepare to be moved, and if you’re lucky and the musicians are on the money, transported and uplifted.

Taqsim is a principal genre in Middle Eastern classical music and (in Arabic) it means to break something down into pieces. The Taqsim starts in one musical mode and is elaborated on. This form of repetition and improvisation gives the music its hypnotic, eternal and emotional feeling. Taqasim, the appropriately named album by Marcel Khalifé is a lovely example of this.

Ok, so far so good. But where to hear this kind of thing live in London, and who would we meet? You’re likely to find a mixed audience at most of these events, which can attract Arabs, university professors, belly dancers and the simply curious.

We started with the emerging Arab Quarterly music evening, whose aim is to celebrate the live music culture of the Middle East. We were fortunate enough to see the Nay (Arabic flute) master Bashir Abdel Aal, who played in the orchestra of Syrian-Egyptian musician and cinema superstar Farid al-Atrash and violin maestro Emile Bassili, who played in the orchestra of Umm Kalthoum − thought of as one of the greatest singers in Arab musical history. They were joined by percussionist George Dergham, Mazin Abu Sayf on accordion, Chalf Hassan on vocals and tabla and Mohammed Abbas on org.

They moved seamlessly from classic cabaret songs such as ‘Batwanes Beek’ (‘Happy with You’, better translations on a postcard, please) to their own compositions. There were powerful and dramatic passages, followed by a haunting and slowly unfurling taqsim. (No plural ‘s’, unless you’re English!)

The next Arab Quarter event is 14 September.

TONIGHT! Monday 20 June: Khyam Allami @ The Forge, Camden
Fresh from the SOAS launch, Khyam presents his debut Oud album Resonance/Dissonance in its entirety, taking the traditional modal system and setting it to his own innovative and emotive path.

Friday 15 July: live music event @ Planet Egypt
Renowned London Bellydance showcase Planet Egypt will host its second live music evening at Darbucka. Musicians will include Abdul Salam Kheir, who studied music at the Lebanese Conservatoire, specialising in Mouwashahat (classical Arab song) as a singer and oud player. Yasmin Alfyha, the internationally recognised Syrian singer will also perform, and is joined by Sheikh Taha on the accordion, Emad Shakir on the org and Sherif and Ibrahim A on the req and tabla.

Want to know more? Check out events at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). St Ethelburga’s Centre for Reconciliation and Peace is often a good bet for quality world music, including Middle Eastern.

Know something we don't? Let us know in the comments.

Last Updated 20 June 2011