ASWAT’s February 2011 Concert
Review by Lovina
posted May 26, 2011
My first Middle Eastern dance teacher, Sandra, routinely encouraged us saying: “If you want to learn how to move like them, dance with them!”
It was in trying to understand the Arabic culture that I came to attend the Aswat concerts. Aswat’s concerts present a unique opportunity to listen to live Arabic music with a multi-piece orchestra. Furthermore, it is an opportunity to learn about the people and music beyond the focused lens of Oriental dance. Arabs are complex with a multiplicity of identities, in touch with expressing pain and hope. This was the tone of the most recent Aswat concert, which occurred on February 27, 2011, celebrating the demonstrations in Egypt and Tunisia and the possibilities for the future of the Arab people.
What is Aswat?
Aswat is an Arabic orchestra that is part of Zawaya, an Arab American cultural organization whose goal is to promote and retain the Arab heritage via musical and cultural arts. It was founded in 2000 by two women, Nabila Mango, a pillar of the San Francisco Palestinian-American community, and Haya Shawwa Ben Halim. Musically, the orchestra is anchored by professional musicians who provide the foundation to support the development amateur Arabic vocalists. Aswat seeks especially to encourage involvement by youth and teach the participants Arabic culture, the music and the language.They learn classical music, folk songs, and cultural pieces spanning the Arab world.
Aswat hires a different professional conductor every couple of years to add his own flavor and to unify the sound. Oftentimes the director is brought over from the Middle East especially to conduct the group.
The “Salute to the Youth of the Arab World” was a special program that was conceptualized and produced within a two-week period in response to the complex emotions that surfaced while watching the demonstrations happening across the world. The program uniquely emphasized several national anthems and nostalgic folk pieces. It was the debut concert of the newest guest musical director, Omar Abbad, a gifted and professionally trained Palestinian-Jordanian musician. He had just arrived from Jordan the previous week. They had also invited a special guest vocalist, Mohannad Mchallah, a gifted singer and rising star of the Arab world.
The mood in the beautiful theatre space at College of San Mateo Theatre was palpable with excitement and enthusiasm. While waiting for the concert to start, an inspirational Egyptian revolutionary song played in the background while a jubilant scene of protesters in Tahrir square projected on a screen above the stage. Once the program started, the audience comprised mostly of well dressed Arabs and their young families, sang familiar songs robustly along with the performers. Aswat, conscious of its non-Arab audience and in line with its educational mission, projected translations of the lyrics so that the rest of us could follow along. Sometimes the mood would become emotional as voices choked up with nostalgia. The program closed with hauntingly beautiful singing by Mr. Mchallah of “Il-ard Btitkallim ‘Arabi” (the earth speaks Arabic) and “Baklub Ismak ya Bladi” (I write your name, my country).
The concert consolidated a much needed expression of hope, excitement, and pride. I felt lucky to be in the audience, to share solidarity, and to be exposed to songs novel to me.
Are you interested in singing with Aswat? Zawaya is warm and welcoming to those interested in learning Arab vocals and more information can be found on their website, zawaya.org. For those of us who are not able to attend Aswat concerts, they do a lovely job of providing professional recordings, and you can also find those at zawaya.org.
Ready for more?
- 3-27-09 ASWAT: Arabic Music Concert
They’d hired a different director this time, all the way from Cairo, Dr. Sari Dowidar. Dr. Dowidar got professional results even out of amateur performers – probably by pushing them hard. That kind of pressure isn’t always fun, but it really pays off. Maqams (maqamaat) are hard enough for the uneducated ear to distinguish without muddying the waters further with inaccurate pitch and tone.
- 4-23-11 Sahra gives us a reports on her friends in Cairo since the Jan 25 revolution.
Sahra Kent with the help of Roxanne Shelby reports on what she has heard from her friends in Cairo since the protests began less than a month before this interview on February 20, 2011. It was conducted at the Belly Dancer of the Universe Competition in Long Beach, California
- 4-11-11 As the Music Fades, Egypt’s January 25 Revolution’s Impact on the Muscians and Dancers
We can’t attain what they had in the past because we are not free. Our minds are full of work and what we should and shouldn’t do. There’s no time for good art. Politics mixed with religion does not make for an atmosphere where the arts can flourish.
- 4-6-11 Video Interview with Shadi of Diamond Pyramid on the Community Kaleidoscope
Gilded Serpent interviews Shadi of Diamond Pyramid regarding the business scene since the Egyptian Revolution less than a month before this interview. This interview was conducted at the Belly Dancer of the Universe Competition in Long Beach, California on February 20, 2011
- 3-2-11 Video Report of Barbara’s recent trip Cairo,
We caught Barbara at the Belly Dancer of the Universe Competition in Long Beach in February 2011. She tells us of her trip to Cairo trying to attend the Nile Festival. Included are descriptions of getting to her hotels, rode blocks, checkpoints, neighborhood militias, attending classes, cell phone video, curfew, teachers including Aida Nour, How caring Mohamed was of his group. Barbara is a vendor of belly dance costumes.
- 2-23-11 Shaking Up Shibuya" The Belly Dance Scene in Japan
While belly dance in Japan originally came from American roots, it quickly grew to include Egyptian, Turkish Oriental, Turkish Roma, and various Tribal styles.
As women and performers, why cannot we see beyond physical representation, when we, too, are trying our hardest to achieve such beauty in our own lives? Such hypocrisy ensures that we can never escape the limitations that society and, thus, we place these same limitations upon our own bodies.
Sneak preview of who you will see this weekend at this year’s contest
“When I was watching you dance, I thought I was watching an Egyptian movie!”
- 5-19-11 Walk Like an Egyptian
Before I learned to "walk like an Egyptian", I wanted to drum like an African! Since my early teens, I had been collecting African drum LPs (as well as conga and bongo drums) and was either dancing like a possessed child or trying to make rhythms happen on drum skins.