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Traditional Arabic music with a jazzy twist.

Lebanese singer Rima Kcheich pierced the solemn silence of the night last Friday at Genina Theater with a voice that is both dominant and engaging, taking the audiences into different worlds during her one-hour performance.Aa

Born in Khiam in South Lebanon, Kcheich started singing classical Arabic music when she was nine. She studied the tradition of classical Arabic singing at the Lebanese Higher Conservatory of Music in Beirut, where she currently teaches oriental singing. She also gives singing classes at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts on an annual basis.

She is known for her inspiring engagement; a gift that has perpetuated special talents that keep Arabic music both alive and renewed.

Kcheich's Friday performance marked the official kick-off of Genina's music summer season. The Lebanese chanteuse presented traditional music repertoires by renowned artists like Sayed Darwish, Fouad Abdel Mejid, Wadi' Al Safi, the Rahbbani brothers and Um Kolthoum, among others.

This music, albeit central to the construction of an Arab music identity, has grown highly inaccessible especially to younger generations. One reason might be the scarcity of good quality recordings.

Kcheich, however, holds the key to the generic taste of critical masses: a confident contemporary vocal performance and fusions with modern jazz.

After an enticing solo entrance, Kcheich was joined by Dutch double-bass player Tony Overwater, whose accompaniment gave those traditional forms a whole new feel. A muwashah, a strophic song intermittently intersected by refrains, has been associated with long and complex listening experiences.

But when the double bass is the responsorial act in a muwashah accompanied by a voice like Kcheich's, the experience is quite different, in fact, inviting for an exploration of a musical form that dates back to 9th century Cordoba.

This unison between Kcheich's traditional forms and the double-bass accompaniment acted like a showcase of the marriage between western and eastern styles. At their origins, those styles emanated in contexts where such eastern and western dichotomies were starkly different and at best blurred.

This conceptual point should be considered when evaluating the reviving of traditional Arabic music forms, where attempts at renewing and reproduction are tangled with an effort to go back to the origins.

Most of the time, those origins are fertile grounds for renewal. Kcheich's collaboration with the Lebanese-Dutch Group Orient Express since 2002 is a case in point.Aa

Kcheich's vocal performance was differently accentuated by this quasi jazz attire. When performing with a classical Arabic ensemble, all musicians contribute to the vocalist's performance with rhythm and pitch. In jazz, the instrumental accompaniment is not necessarily moving in the same direction of the vocalist's performance; they rather perform together separately. This, somewhat, shed light on both performances, both as individual presentations and as a duo.AaAa

Besides the recital of traditional forms, Kcheich's forte, she also presented contemporary works by Lebanese composers and lyricists Rabih Mroue and Issam Haj Ali, who she collaborated with in the production of her second album "Yalalali" in 2006.

Mroue is behind "Beykafini" (Enough), a gentle tribute of anger at the beloved, where lyrics broke out in a profound performance. Haj Ali is the lyricist and composer of "Boussat Al-Rih," (Magic Carpet), a reuse of the "One Thousand and One Night's" flying magic carpet to recount a romantic narrative.

Daily NewsEgypt 2009

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Publication:Daily News Egypt (Egypt)
Date:Apr 26, 2009
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