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Jordanians Celebrate Their Culture : Royal Army Band's Parade Appearance Initiates Festivities

January 01, 1987|KATHLEEN HENDRIX | Times Staff Writer

When the Royal Jordanian Armed Forces Band takes its place in the Tournament of Roses parade today, it will be the first time in the 98-year history of the parade that an Arab country has been represented.

The Jordanians, and the Arab-American community of Southern California (which numbers about 250,000), see this as cause for pride and joy. Thus the weeklong Jordan Art and Culture Festival, sponsored by the local community with the Jordanian Embassy and Alia Royal Jordanian Airlines, that ends Friday at Disneyland.

A Unique Flavor

The week of dinners and receptions, exhibits and performances by the 150-member band and the accompanying 30-member Alia Royal Jordanian Folklore Troupe began officially Sunday with a formal dinner at the Sheraton-Premiere at Universal City.

From the start, it had a flavor all its own. Few banquets that begin at 6 p.m. can be found going strong, or just beginning to wind down, at midnight, as did this one. But then, few formal dinners are as colorful as this one was--starting outside in the courtyard at the entrance to the ballroom, where the band drilled and played.

Dressed in military uniforms and red-and-white checked kefiyahs, or headresses, they played a mix of Arab music on traditional instruments, military marching sounds coming from the brass band, and the startling wail of bagpipes--the latter an inheritance from the days of the British mandate after World War I.

Once inside, the first number was "Dixie." And on through the evening the music ranged from Sousa to the cancan to sounds more distinctly Arabian.

Among those who managed best at the crowded event were festival chairman Mahmoud El-Farra, his wife, Hanan, and coordinator Salwa Rafai. In the course of the evening, by keeping on the go constantly, it seemed that they seated and fed more like 16 than 10 at their table for 10. From the raised platform, El-Farra's brother Sabri, who emceed the evening, pleaded not too effectively from time to time, "Please be seated."

Between courses of Arab dishes and band music, the folklore troupe danced, sang and stamped--to the occasional, and unprogrammed, accompaniment of the ululating trill of some women in the audience, and a few resounding cheers from the back of the room.

Midway through the night came the fashion show, "Jordan Through Centuries," prepared by the Rural Development Jordanian Society, and offering lavish interpretations of costumes over the last 5,000 or so years.

Not all of those attending followed the modern dress code of formal, but everybody was dressed up. And then some.

Among those conforming to the code was Fred Soldwedel, president of the Pasadena Tournament of Roses Parade. Not only was he in a tuxedo. He was wearing a red-and-white-checked kefiyah, with a royal insignia--presented to him when he visited Jordan to review the band. He kept it on throughout the evening.

Extending Greetings

Supplied with a few hastily scribbled, phonetic salutations in Arabic that Jean Kasem, actress-wife of disc jockey Casey, had just given him at the dinner table, Soldwedel tried them out from the platform to the crowd's amused appreciation.

Telling the Jordanians the tournament was delighted to have them, Soldwedel commented on the parade's theme this year, "A World of Wonders," its inclusion of various foreign participants and its unprecedented potential international audience of 250 million.

"It's only by understanding one another that we can ever hope to achieve peace in this world," he said, "and we should all have that as our main goal and objective."

The same sentiments were voiced by the Jordanians, among them Ambassador Mohamed Kamal and Minister of the Royal Court Adnan Abu Odeh, who also spoke of "divergent political views" of the two countries, "but the many common grounds that hold us together such as belief in one God, and the protection of the rights of all men and women."

On Monday, while the band played at the Triforium across from City Hall, a mixed group of Angelenos took in the performance. Lunching office workers, jurors on a break, several Latino families, retired people and a few street people with shopping carts sat in the grass or on the ledges listening and clapping.

Among them were five head-scarved Arab women in tunic-style dresses, sitting on the grass, having a great time trilling, clapping time to the music, calling instructions to the musicians and dancers. One juror mistook the trilling sound for a bird, discovered her error and looked on in fascination.

The lunchtime concert ended with band members and onlookers alike joining in a circle to dance the dhbekh , a familiar folk dance of the region.

"It brings back old memories," Nidal Haddadin said. Here for nine years, and a student at Cal State L.A., Haddadin said his brother was visiting as a musician with the Folklore Troupe.

"We're trying to show the world we're a loving and peaceful people," he said, gesturing toward the band. "Look around. People are happy."

Rotunda Exhibit

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