Festival is, perhaps, a bit of an overstatement. However, there was a collection of artists who participated in the event held recently at the Rialto in Atlanta. My wife and I joined some acquaintances there to explore the culturally rich music of the Arabo-Andalusian. Representing the classical music were musicians from three cities; the Tunisian singer Lotfi Bouchnak, Wasla from Egypt, and the Orchestra of Tangier.
I knew very little of the meaning of this music. Fortunately, translations were provided in the program.
Any deer in the presence of lions
Will leap in flirtation
It was in the garden of eternity
For my suffering it remains in the open
Any shape that it has is slender
When it bends it leans
It drank the wine and the titmouse’s
Drool was flowing
His face was the full moon as it rises
In the darkness of the long night
Since he moistened the tall girls
With water coming from the fissure
Giving leaves in the darkness of decaying age
And sudden death from the black misery
Now I just need a translation into English.
The first to perform, the Sama’a, was Marouane Hajji with a short singing piece (less than 10 minutes). He was a 20-something Arab and a wonderful singer – apparently regarded as one of the best. Following Hajji’s bit, the Orchestra of Tangier performed an excerpt from the Nawbaat Hijaz al-Kabir.
There used to be twenty-four Nawbaat, each of which corresponded to an hour of the day (there may have been twenty-six Nawbaat). Only eleven Nawbaat have survived to date. Each Nawbaat consists of five movements (Mizans). Each movement is based on a certain rhythm.
It is interesting to note that a Nawbaat, made up of its Mizans, actually takes an hour to perform. I imagine that the entire collection has been performed in total at least once in history, but I cannot imagine staying awake through them. I barely made it through one. It’s also worth noting that, while brilliant musicians, the Orchestra of Tangier does not appear to be a “performance” group. They sat in chairs and played their music with little interest. Some actually looked bored. Perhaps it’s the style, but it does little to rouse the audience. Unfortunately, we had to leave on the fifth Mizan – Mizan al-Quddam – which picked up the pace and had the (Arab) audience clapping along. Some appeared to know the piece, while I was just trying to read along. It’s unfortunate that we left because following the intermission, the Lotfi Bouchnak Ensemble performed and was apparently more lively. They had people singing along, clapping, and included a much heavier repertoire of percussion. It was 9:30 when we finally left, so we couldn’t have stayed longer. We had children to collect from the mother-in-law!