As part of Nottingham’s World Event Young Artists (WEYA), a ten-day festival hosting 1,000 artists from 100 nations, Ahl El-Hawa, a group of young artists from Lebanon performed their work ‘Classical and Traditional Arabic Renaissance’ in St. Peters church in Nottingham on Monday (September 10).
The band’s name, Ahl El-Hawa means 'the people of Love’ in Arabic. The name is derived from the title of a song composed by Egyptian musician and composer Zakariya Ahmad in the early 1940s.
Founded only 10 months ago in Beirut by its five talented members, Abed Kobeissy, Ali Hout, Bilal Bitar, Imad Hashisho and Naim Asmar, the band performs what they describe as the strong pride of authentic Arabic music; whilst translating its history to a modern vision.
“The main thing that brought us together is the kind of music, specially this kind of music isn’t really practiced by many musicians in Beirut or anywhere else in the Arab world,” Abed Kobeissy, the band’s Buzuq player told Reuters television.
Through the use of pre-composed pieces and improvising melodies according to ‘Maqam’, the Arabic musical modes, the band's perform a modern interpretation of the 19th century Renaissance (Nahda) period, reviving the roots of Arabic musical traditions.
With each member possessing a unique style, knowledge and skills, the musicians work with their respective instruments - the Buzuq, Baglama, Qanun, Santur, Oud, Rigg, Bandir and vocal - to perform their interpretations of the musical traditions of the ‘Levant’, a term which encompasses the countries Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories.
Kobeissy, says their music reflects both the influence of church chanting and early Islamic melodies from the Byzantine period.
“Actually Islamic music was influenced by the Byzantine church music so yes these two pillars in the Arab world, the Byzantine church and the Islamic chanting have really a big, big impact on this tradition, and tonight we are presenting two modest samples of Islamic music liturgy,” Kobeissy explained.
With the performance of ‘Wasla’ (which means modal suite in Arabic), the band reinterprets the Levantine musical tradition, regarding the musical text as the basis for creativity, rather than it being perceived as a sacred composition not open to change.
As well as singing classical Arabic songs, the band's main vocalist, Naim Asamr, recites verses of the Quran with ‘Tajweed’, (applying the correct rules of Quran reading) as he perfoms his Oud music with the group.
“Well, I feel that..it is nice to be able to show that part of the culture around, particularly, Islam or religions in general, it is good to show the nice part, because we all know religion has done both, so that cultural part, especially with music, is the part we would like people to see.”
Asmar says it is a great experience to bring classical Arabic music to a European country and perform the beauty of Quranic verses in a Church. He says it conveys a message of peace and unity as well as it introduces the Western audiences to other cultures.
“You know when you feel the music you feel that spirituality, even though you are not following word by word, so it is a spiritual place, this is a church and the music was also spiritual, so it goes no matter Christian or Islam, and by the way I am Christian, I am not Muslim so we do it for the sake of music and that particular Islamic culture that has much, much beauty in its words and its poetry,” Asmar added.
Nottingham’s World Event Young Artists showcases a selection of other international talents, also featuring short films, photography, illustration, musical performances and poetry.
The ten-day festival is hosted by UK Young Artists and supported by the Arts Council England, Cultural Olympiad East Midlands, Nottingham Trent University and Nottingham City Council.