Spreading harmony through Arabic rhythm

Arabic Music Event
Xander Opiyo/THE REVIEW
Performers of traditional Arabic music brought songs and activism to the university, working to support Syrian refugees.

BY
MANAGING MOSAIC EDITOR

As Middle-Eastern conflict continues, one professor is determined to educate the university and surrounding community about the humanized nature and peaceful ideals of the Arabic culture.

The Arabic music ensemble Layaali performed Thursday night in The Roselle Center for Performing Arts. Each of the musicians originated from Arabic countries such as Syria, Lebanon, Morocco and Palestine. The group is now based in Boston, and travels throughout the country to spread their cultural ideas through music performances.

“The purpose of the event is to bring awareness of Arabic music and Arabic culture,” says Professor Ikram Masmoudi, who single-handedly organized the entire production. “Apart from what the students learn in class there’s not much happening on our campus about Arabic culture or Middle-Eastern culture.”

This is the second year that Masmoudi has invited Layaali to perform at the university. This idea was developed after remembering several Layaali performances she attended in Philadelphia and Boston, as well as at Middlebury University, where she previously worked. She says last year there were almost 300 people in attendance.

The event was free and open to the public to encourage as many attendees as possible.

One student, freshman Thomas Kitson, expressed great admiration for the event. As a singer, Kitson says they had a deep appreciation for the different style of music.

“The funky rhythm that they use, 10/8 is really unconventional,” Kitson says.

Throughout the event, the audience was introduced to the various instruments used by the Arab ensemble, such as the oud and qanun, two string instruments played in the Middle East.

Layaali also expressed to the audience their goal as musicians to help Syrian refugees. Michel Moushabeck, one member of the ensemble, works as a publisher when he is not performing. Through this occupation, Moushabeck paired with a cookbook writer and created a collaborative cookbook entirely devoted to soup recipes. “Soup for Syria” has been published throughout the world .

Layaali brought several of these cookbooks to the event to be sold, and Moushabeck says that 100% of the book’s profits are used to support Syrian refugees.

Senior Fatma Eukamseem says that this dedication toward helping refugees was one of the most inspiring parts about the ensemble’s purpose.

“It was really breathtaking,” Eukamseem says.

Masmoudi expressed extreme gratitude to every organization on campus that assisted in sponsoring this event. She says that without the support of the Office of Provost, Institute for Global Studies, Center for Global and Area Studies, the English Language Institute and the Department of Languages, Literatures and Cultures, Political Sciences, Music, Anthropology and Women and Gender Studies departments, this event would not have been possible.

“I’m not doing it as a person,” Masmoudi says. “I’m doing it as a faculty member who has support behind her from her school.”

The professor began planning for this night since she booked the venue in late October. It wasn’t until mid-March that she finally collected enough funds to secure a date with the musicians.

Masmoudi says she plans to make this Arabic Music Event an annual tradition at the university. She has attended oriental jazz concerts three times and says next year she aims to bring that type of music to campus. She thinks that having an ensemble with this cultural fusion will “make it more appealing to American audiences and to our students and our community.”

At the conclusion of the event, the entire population of Gore Hall in the Roselle Center for the Arts stood in a standing ovation for the ensemble of Middle-Eastern musicians.

“I thought [this event] would lift our spirits and give us a little hope,” Masmoudi says. “When we think about the Middle East there’s a lot of turmoil. We look to music as a message of hope and peace to show that Arabs enjoy love and happiness and peace and music.”

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