With great music, comes great responsibility
Ahead of a performance in Dubai at ChoirFest this weekend, Amaan Choir’s conductor and founder Rebal Alkhodari tells
about the unifying power of music
Syrian conductor Rebal Alkhodari has only one agenda when it comes to the Amaan Choir he founded in Jordan in 2011. Whether the 90-member choir is preparing for international touring projects or participating in regional festivals – such as the ongoing ChoirFest in Dubai – promoting peace is at the heart of their efforts.
The annual festival, which includes workshops, school competitions and conductor masterclasses, began on Sunday. On Friday, 12 choirs from the countries in the region, including Jordan, Morocco, Afghanistan and the UAE, will compete for the title of Choir of the Year. The London Community Gospel Choir will headline a gala evening on Saturday. The Amaan Choir – which began under the umbrella of the National Music Conservatory in Amman before branching out on its own in 2014 as the membership grew – will perform with the hope of swaying the audience with pieces from its repertoire, plus new Oriental and Sufi-inspired compositions.
“Amaan is an Arabic-Turkish word,” says Alkhodari, explaining the difference in pronunciation between the capital of Jordan and the name of his choir. “There is a strong ‘ a’, and it is used when you listen to something and it touches your heart, your soul. You say: ‘Ah, Amaan’ – like you are taken by the music.”
He says the a cappella group have a distinctive voice, which brings Arabic and Oriental music to the fore.
“The East was the cradle of old cultures and religions and we want to refocus our energy to promoting that,” he says. “We do perform in French, Italian, German and Greek, but also in Aramaic, Cyrianah, Byzantine and Pharaonic. Oriental music, which heavily relies on instruments, doesn’t easily extend itself to an a cappella style, but we do everything to weave that into our work to come up with something new.” Alkhodari has been singing since the age of 6. He began honing his vocal abilities at Al Asad Institute for Music, and graduated with a specialisation in the oud in 2005.
He went on to gain another degree in vocal skills and piano at the Damascus High Institute of Music in 2010.
The singer- composer has released two albums – Shwyet Haki and Political Poems – and also leads the Andalusia Tawsheeh band, which is based in Europe. Along with performing some of their pieces about Andalusia and Ibn Battuta, his 18- member Amaan choir will debut three new compositions in Dubai.
“One song is from the famous Lebanese singer Sabah, and the other is about the life and freedom for the entire world, which is in Arabic,” says Alkhodari.
Another piece the choir will be performing is close to his heart. He composed it, he reveals, in response to the lack of tolerance in the West since Donald Trump was sworn in as president of the United States. “We do this piece with women singers as well, though traditionally Sufism did not have female voices,” says Alkhodari. “We will use this to show similarities and unity between Christianity and Islam, and equality and peace to all.
“As a composer, the idea of this came after the new presi- dent of America, Trump. Somehow after we listen to him, we laugh at his ideas, but then we also thought how do we change those opinions and bring tolerance? Music is our way to help society live together.”
Alkhodari says it has been gratifying to see the choir’s music have an effect and change mindsets over the years. “I remember a show we had in Germany where we were singing about Ibn Battuta,” he says. “The choir had to walk to the stage through the audience singing a Moroccan wedding song. The song starts with Allahu Akbar, which means ‘God is great’.”
He says the initial reaction was one of shock. “Many people warned us that it would cause tension. Because of Islamophobia, a lot of people jump and get terrified when they hear this. But it was so heart- warming to get compliments after our show from people who said they finally understood that it doesn’t mean something bad. It just comes from Islam but, universally, means God is the greatest.”
With Amaan Choir performing throughout the Arab world and Europe, Alkhodari says they will continue to make music that pushes that agenda.
“Somehow, as a choir, we think this is our responsibility in society, to help the communities and countries believe that we are all the same,” he adds.
The Choir of the Year Competition at ChoirFest Middle East will be held on Friday from 4.30pm at The Els Club in Dubai. Tickets are from Dh100 on www.800tickets.com. Visit www.choirfestme.com for more information
Moroccan group Siraj Band shot to fame after their performance on Arabs Got Talent 2015. With five vocalists, a percussionist and guitarist, they perform various styles and arrangements including polyphony and a cappella.
The Amaan Choir from Jordan will perform new oriental and Sufi-inspired compositions at ChoirFest Middle East, taking place at The Els Club in Dubai this weekend.