Monday, June 10, 2013

Lebanese Singer Brings Armenian, Syriac and Byzantine Song to Fes Festival

Abeer Nehme - Aramean, Syriac and Byzantine Song - Lebanon
Batha Museum

Abeer Nehme excels in the art of singing the religious repertoire of Maronite, Byzantine and Syriac origin. Simple, touching and buoyed by personal faith, Abeer Nehme revives the Aramean roots of this ancient tradition.

She brings to life the emotion of these Syriac songs and of the ancient Aramaic language that she is reviving. Taking her repertoire from the diverse Christian traditions both eastern and Arab, she also has a heritage of Gregorian and Orthodox song.

Nehme's singing marries the past and the present, informed as it is by a clear remembrance of the biblical Holy Land and encompasses a liturgy that is both sacred and contemplative. Having a deep musicological ability, she also constantly searches for the richness of other world traditions while being profoundly attached to her own.

Her voice has a light, crystalline clarity which seems to lift us up and push our spirit beyond our daily thoughts.

The Concert

Abeer Nehme didn’t need to sing a note to get her audience’s attention at Musee Batha. Just walking on stage in a stunning accordion pleated red satin dress with a flattering empire line and architectural bell shaped skirt, flashing a dazzling smile and she had them.

There’d been a slight delay because the electronic keyboard had been left back at the musician's hotel and when the keyboard arrived it wouldn’t co-operate. Things finally got underway at the beautiful Batha Museum venue on another perfect Fez afternoon.

Nehme’s voice, always clear and pure, moved from haunting to tender to thrillingly operatic. The orchestra comprised keyboard, Kanun, violin, bass and percussion (frame drum, triangle, cymbals and tambourine) but even, (perhaps especially), unaccompanied she could raise goosebumps.

She has the vocal range of an entire opera, at times dipping to contralto when singing in fousa and at others her voice soared beyond soprano, crystal clear and pure, her sound reminiscent of a Tibetan singing bowl.

With her obviously warm personality she engaged with the audience from the start, casting long maternal glances at a nursing baby on the carpet near the stage and singing two traditional lullabies apparently just for it.

Her self-effacing nature won hearts too. Introducing a song beautifully in French she smiled and said, “I’m English-educated so doing my best!” and received cheers from audience. She later said she was delighted to be in Fez for its “ambiance merveilleux”.

The festival’s chief sound engineer Chris Ekkers said they were aiming for a “cathedral reverb”, a sound that suited the sacred Christian roots of much of Nehme’s repertoire.

The more lively songs had a few audience members on the carpet shimmying their shoulders and dancing with their hands until the final applause brought them all to their feet when Nehme gave an encore.

Text: Stephanie Clifford-Smith
Photographs: Sandy McCutcheon

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