Saturday, June 11, 2011

Syubbanul Akhyar Ensemble from Java at Fes Festival

The accomplished Syubbanul Akhyar Ensemble presented the final concert of Hajir Marawis music from Java at the Batha Museum on Saturday afternoon. The music is a cross between Arab and Indonesian and stems from the Islamicisation of south-east Asia during the 11th and 12th centuries.

Yemeni traders brought their music to the region at a time when medieval Sufism was blossoming. The music lies between Sufism and the ancient religious practices of this part of Asia: Buddhism, Mazdaism and Hinduism.

The group used hajir (double-skinned drums), marawis (smaller tambourines), oud and the Yemeni lute, gambus. Added to this was a superb violin. The performance was proof of why this group are so venerated in their homeland. From the taqsim-like slow introductions, to the sudden bursts of drumming, the playing was tight and yet not rigid. This was playing with "feel" and not just technique. The solo violinist and the flautist brought the melodic and lyrical works to life, while the hand-drums kicked the whole show into gear. The audience, which included the Indonesian Ambassador, lapped it up.

To European ears the music was superbly accessible - a bridge between cultures. Another great piece of programming by the Festival's artistic director.

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