Friday, April 24, 2015

Fes Festival of Sufi Culture ~ Day Seven

Evening Concert

Sufis Chants of Allepo  ~  a tribute to Jalaluddine Weiss

Jalaluddin was Weiss's Muslim name referencing the 13th-century poet Jalaluddin Rumi.

He was born "Julien", in Paris, but was, as Musicologist Peter Culshaw put it, "one of those often eccentric Europeans who become so fascinated with Arabian culture that they go native". He died Friday, January 2nd 2015. He was 61 years old.

The Al-Kindî Ensemble, founded in 1983 by Julien Jalaluddine Weiss in Aleppo, capital of northern Syria and a stopping place on the famous Silk Road, was rated among the best groups devoted to classical Arab music, owing to the musical qualities displayed by its performers, and to the high standard of its work, steeped in the various musical traditions of the near and middle East.

Al Kindi were a Takht Sharqi (traditional oriental ensemble), composed of a qânun (a table zither with pinched strings), an Oud (oriental lute), a Nay (reed flute) and a riqq (small tambourine with little cymbals).

Under Jalaluddine's leadership, the group performed the classical Arab repertoire setting the instruments into sharp relief, thus re-establishing a balance which very often exclusively favoured the sung melody.

Aleppo has been an important centre for Sufism since the thirteenth century, when the rulers of the Ayubid dynasty started building Sufi convents (khanaqa) and lodges (zawiya, pl. zawaiya) as part of their policy of fostering Sunni Islam against the threat of Ismaili Shi‘ism and the Crusaders. Aleppo was a cultural crossroad due its geographical location and its function as a trading centre to where converged caravans coming from Anatolia, Iran, Mesopotamia and southern Syria. This cosmopolitan environment was reflected in the doctrinal and ritual traits of the Sufism practiced in Aleppo, which fused mystical trends developed in the Arab, Turkish and Persian religious and cultural contexts. Under the Ottoman Empire some Sufi tariqas (Brotherhoods) where organised into centralised and hierarchical structures, putting the local zawiyas under the leadership of a Shaykh Al-Mashaykh.

Up until the tragedy of the war in Syria, the permanence and expansion of Sufism in Aleppo showed that there is no inherent contradiction between Sufi practices or beliefs and modernity.

Concert Review

The concert at Bab Makina was in two parts. First up was a small tariqa half of whose members live in France the other half in Syria.

Photo: Priam Thomas
 It was a simple musical line up with three tambourines, a nay and an oud. The youngish singer had a commanding voice and a healthy dose of vitality. He was obviously enjoying his gig. The Syrian Sufi music was intense and uplifting.

However, the audience were focused on one end of the stage where three of the Turkish Khalwatiyya were waiting . Unlike the Dervish performance the previous night where the whirling was an integral part of the spiritual performance, the display at Bab Makina, totally upstaged the music. It was not necessarily a bad thing, more that they were highly visible on the raised stage and brighter lighting. The audience were mesmerised.

As on the previous night, dancer Burak Bildik (pictured above) gave an amazing display of whirling. His eyes closed, he appeared lost in a sea of tranquility, his mind elsewhere. His fellow dancers were excellent but lacked his finely tuned grace and fluidity.

The second group was, in sound and appearance, like many Arabic Orchestras.  It comprised a singer and solo violinist and orchestra leader, out front of a row of nattily dressed gentlemen. These gentlemen, included two young male backing vocalists, a 2nd violin, qânun, oud, double bass and three percussionists.

Photo: Priam Thomas
The music immediately struck a chord with the smallish crowd. It was traditional Arabic popular music, familiar to almost everyone. "Just like Egyptian music, but better!" a local fan informed everyone within hearing range.

The formula for much of the programme was a slow and melodic introduction, vaguely reminiscent of a taqsim. Then, with a sudden flourish of tambourines or glissando on the oud and qânun, the tempo would kick up a gear and the musicians would romp on into a medley of songs.

Sufi fans come in all sizes
This unashamedly popular culture was the perfect fit for the audience who lapped it up and applauded at every flourish. The stand out moment was a remarkable rendition by the singer of the opening words of the call to prayer . His"allahu akbar"rang through the the Bab Makina. A timely reminder that we were at a Sufi festival.

Photos and text: Priam Thomas and Sandy McCutcheon

Apology: Due to a technical glitch we are unable to bring you the reports from today's Round Tables

Tomorrow's Programme (Note: Afternoon at Batha Museum is a concert not a Round Table)

10am   Round Table Final Discussion
4pm     Batha Museum - Concert: Shaykh Hassan Dyck & Muhabbat Caravan
8.30pm Concert at Bab Makina: Samaà by Moroccan Sufis and Andalusian music

Saturday's weather: Partly cloudy. Top temperature 25 Celsius. Minimum 12.

Bab Makina - Photo Priam Thomas

See other Festival reports

Sufi Festival  ~ Day One
Sufi Festival - Day Two
Sufi Festival ~ Day Three
Sufi Festival ~ Day Four
Sufi Festival ~ Day Five
Sufi Festival ~ Day Six
Sufi Festival ~ Day Seven
Sufi Festival ~ Day Eight

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