Ancient Sounds: Music of Iraq and India

Ancient Sounds: Music of Iraq and India

 Ancient Sounds : Music of Iraq and India

> Rahim AlHaj and Alam Khan and musicians
> 19 Sept 2009
Herbst Theatre, San Francisco, CA
> www.ciis.edu
alam khan
Alam Khan
>
>While this concert was hardly opera, all music is, to some degree,
> theatrical, and dramatic because it’s done with and for people in an
> audience. And time is funny. It’s slipping through our fingers, or bearing
> down on us. But whatever it is or isn’t time is here to stay and how we
> see it will change. Take the California Institute of Integral Studies
> presented concert which lasted about 2 hours and 35 minutes including the
> interval. Some of it seemed intensely long, and some intensely short.
>
>Classical Indian music is a serious affair, and not especially concerned
> with social niceties, like a concert of Western classical music which
> wouldn’t dream of starting with something heavy, but something reasonably
> light like an overture. Ragas ( itals ) are, of course, associated with
> specific times of day, and their concomittant moods / vibrations, so sarod
> ( itals ) player Alam Khan — one of revered sarod master Ali Akhbar
> Khan’s youngest sons — his brother Manik, on tanpura ( itals ), and Salar
> Nader, tabla ( itals ) , began with an evenieng raga ( itals ), in
> kirwanii ( itals ) mode, which he said he hoped he could get through . The
> first part, alap ( itals )? in a very slow tempo, with miniscule changes
> and timbral shifs in the repeated melodic figure in the sarod — grasping
> what it was doing required close attention — was alleviated somewhat by
> the tiime expanding rhythmic contributions of the tabla , and the
> tanpura’s unchanging skein of overtones,which provide a drone like a
> harmonium, Things didn’t really catch fire in the 4o minute raga ( itals )
> until its second part, in a much faster tempo — probably doppio ( itals
> ), or double in speed, where timbres got thicker, and the rhythmic
> interplay between sarod and tabla grew more complex, and more interesting
> to the untutored ear. Darker, fuller, richer in color and incident, though
> ragas are hardly story music in the Western sense of having an explicit
> program about something.
>
> And what could be more full of incident than Arabic music which Iraqi oud
> ( itals ) master Rahim AlHaj, and his percussionist, US-born Issa Malaf,
> presented after Khan’s set? It didn’t hurrt that AlHaj looked like a
> French character actor, say a rugged version of Trintingnant or Michel
> Piccoli, and was charming as hell, plus funny? — ” Come on, sweetheart “
> — he implored as he tuned his oud , which was invented in Iraq 5 millenia
> ago. Its tone is deeply resonant, and in the hands of someone like AlHaj,
> who studeid with perhaps the greatest master of the instrument, Munir
> Bashir, deeply expressive of both joy and pain. AlHaj, who knows tragedy
> first hand — he was tortured during Hussein’s regime — dedicated his
> first 2 pieces, one for the 2 miliion Iraqi children who died during the
> US sanctions 1991-2003 — and ” Dance of The Palms ” to the 2 million
> palsm destroyed in hs country — were sublte, direct, and very moving.
> Then he was joined for several other pieces by Malaf on dumbeck ( itals )
> –? goblet shaped drum, and 2 different sized daf ( tials ) — a frame
> drum, who negotiated the complex cross rhythms with ease and point. And
> AlHaj and Malaf gloried in the dramatic rests / breaks in the meoldic
> rhythms which are such a powerful and evocative part of Arabic music both
> vocal — it’s all over legendary Egypitan diva? Umm Kulthumm’s work — and
> instrumental..
>
>Collaborations between different musical traditions can come off like
> arranged marriages where neither partner has a say. But this one, which
> involved the 5 musicians in a? full set after the interval, playing on and
> off a 16-beat cycle provided by Khan — Arabic music has many melodic
> scales / modes, or maqamat , too — sounded effortless, each voice
> emerging distinctly, though the oud’s volume couldn’t match that of the
> far larger sarod, and the daf was sometimes overpowered by Khan’s forces
> at full bore. Yet the whole emerged balanced, cohesive, and everyone was
> obviously listening very acutely, like dancers ready to catch each other
> before an inevitable fall.? Time and space collapsed, and 2 great
> intermingled musical and spiriual tradittions emerged as one ecstatic one.
> And the not quite sell-out audience rose to its feet in fervent cheers.
>
Michael McDonagh

Santa Fe, NM
Mr. Simpson has a BA in Journalism from the University of Southern California and worked as an advertising writer in Los Angeles before moving to New York to pursue a different passion: dance. He danced professionally in New York and Boston before founding a community-based modern dance company, Small City Dance Project, in Newburyport, MA. His fiction has appeared in literary journals and anthologies. He was a teaching fellow at Smith College, where he received his MFA in choreography. While living in the Bay Area for 15 years, he wrote about dance for the San Francisco Chronicle and other periodicals. In 2005, he was a NEA Fellow at the Dance Critics Institute, American Dance Festival. For culturevulture.net, he reviews dance, theatre and film. He moved to Santa Fe in October, 2008. He writes for "Pasatiempo," the Arts magazine of the "Santa Fe New Mexican."