With great mu­sic, comes great re­spon­si­bil­ity

Af­shan Ahmed

The National - News - Arts & Life - - Front Page -

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.

Cour­tesy of The Fridge

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.

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