ECHO Entertainment News: Review: The Alif Ensemble, Philharmonic Hall

LIVERPOOL’S eleventh Arabic Arts Festival – the only one of its kind in the UK – closed with the world première of a song and music sequence specially composed for London 2012.

The 40-minute work, using a selected poetic narrative will also be heard in Harrogate and Birmingham prior to its official Olympian début.

But there could be nowhere better, or more fitting, for a preliminary performance, given Liverpool’s record in promoting cross-cultural music in this case featuring performers from Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine, Egypt and Iraq.

Allowing for delays in travel permits, which meant that the group only fully integrated on Friday – despite most taking part in local workshops for a week – the mood was extremely relaxed and assured.


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The ‘sound’ is led by ensemble founder Kyam Allami, playing the oud, the traditional fretless string instrument which is the basis of middle eastern music.

Add to that the buzuk, mastered by vocalist Tamer Abu Ghazaleh, the the rest integrates the already widely familiar – bass guitar (Khaled Omran), two percussion players (Ayman Mabrouk and Kaled Yassine) with Yaroub Smarait on violin and Maurice Louca on keyboards.

Indeed, when also operating the mixing desk, Louca’s bodily animation communicated enthusiasm for a sound world which, frquently, could easily have crossed over into the realms of mid-period Pink Floyd.

This readily accounts for the ease with which some cultures can co-exist, building collages of material which is both easily accessible and, as the fusion grows, even mesmerising.

At one point Yaroub Smarait’s fiddle work was every bit as light and engaging as a Bach partita would be to western ears.

The hurdles of language, however, would have benefited from either explanation or printed translation.

That still allows for authenticity, given that the original text has its own cadences which would doubtless have suffered from being sung in English.

The overall mood takes much from improvisation and the art of the apparently spontaneous.

Yet the real sense edge these musicians can create avoids the over-comfortable, allowing some riffs to benefit from a raw edge that would perhaps be missing in the studio.

7 – Arab zing

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