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Miras project celebrates non-western music

By Jess Linde

Section: Arts, Featured

April 26, 2013

April 22 marked the final major performance by the Middle East Music Ensemble, as part of the Miras Project, directed by Ann Lucas. The all-student ensemble, which included guests Jamal Sinno on the qanun and dancer Erzulie, performed to a group of students, family members and other guests in the Slosberg Center’s main auditorium. The ensemble performed an eclectic selection of Middle Eastern music divided into seven themes, including songs from Lebanon, Syria, Turkey and Egypt. In addition to the members of the ensemble, other student performers included singer Tameen Jaara ’15 and the members of the Brandeis Belly Dance Ensemble.

One of the most interesting aspects of the performance was that not all of the music was Middle Eastern traditional folk music. In fact, many of the songs were composed by contemporary musicians, including Egyptian composer Hediyat al-Eid and popular Lebanese singer Fairuz. Fairuz’s song Lamma Bada Yatathana was sung beautifully by oud player/vocalist Yoni Battat ’13 and Jaara, and many other songs featuring vocals were also quite wonderfully performed.

Slosberg’s main auditorium was an ideal venue for the concert as well. Its large space has great acoustics that accentuated the percussion instruments as well as highlighted the harmonies created by string instruments. The auditorium also highlighted the distinct sound of Sinno’s qanun, a large harp-like instrument from Kazakhstan. Sinno masterfully played the instrument’s 78 strings, creating an ethereal atmosphere for the songs, which made them that much more engaging. In between certain songs, senior student musicians received gifts from the bandleaders, such as CDs of Middle Eastern music and other tokens of gratitude.

For most of the concert, the participants just transferred through songs with no real interaction between the musicians and the audience except to explain the origin of a new section. These sections, containing traditional poems, folk songs and modern compositions, were all played in different keys and contained different exotic instruments. Everything went as planned and nothing out of the ordinary happened. That is, of course, until guest dancer Erzulie took the stage to support the ensemble. Erzulie, a professional belly dancer and instructor from the Massachusetts area, worked very well with the music. As she has obviously been dancing to this kind of music for many years, her performance was very natural and fit perfectly with the theme of the performance.

It is very clear that the Miras Project and the student performers put a lot of work into this concert, and it definitely paid off. All the students are very talented and introduced music that is great, but little known in the West, to their peers and the Brandeis audience. The Brandeis Belly Dance Ensemble helped make the show lively and memorable. The only regret is that many members of the ensemble are graduating this year, and will not be around to deliver further concerts. There is no doubt, however, that the Brandeis Middle East Music Ensemble will live on.

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