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UP ALL NIGHT / HILLARY JOHNSON

Where World Music Is the Star

March 20, 1994|HILLARY JOHNSON

Belly-dancer Aisha Ali vibrates her silver and silk-clad hips to the sharp, sensuous trill of Souhael Kaspar's tar drum. Fellow musician Ali Jihad Racy tosses aside his oud, a Middle Eastern lute, to take up the beat with another drum.

The audience of 60 or so Tuesday night regulars claps Ali and company on to a rousing, swirling, shimmering finale.

The scene is International Bandstand--not a nightclub, but a 7-to-10 p.m. UCLA Extension course taught by local world-music guru Tom Schnabel, who has hosted "Cafe L.A." on public radio station KCRW since 1992. Schnabel has been a musical fixture in Los Angeles since 1979, when he instituted KCRW's "Morning Becomes Eclectic," which he hosted until 1990.

The nine-week class, offered once a year, takes on a different region of the globe each week, and Schnabel regularly supplements his witty, personal lectures with live performances by dancers and musicians. Here are nine parties for which you don't need to find a date.

"Tom Schnabel has been my most important influence musically," says student Clive Baillie, who works in advertising and pursues music as a passionate hobby. "But this has turned out to be a very expensive class, since I end up going to Tower Records on the way home and buying everything we've listened to."

The evening devoted to the music of northern Africa and the Middle East begins with Schnabel presenting video clips and selections from his personal collection of more than 7,000 records and CDs.

"This is a song called 'Nisi Nisi.' It's kind of the 'Louie Louie' of Algeria," Schnabel says, introducing a Rai number by artist Khaled.

After the 8:30 p.m. coffee break, Schnabel brings on Racy and Kaspar, who demonstrate several styles of Middle Eastern classical and folk music on an array of instruments.

Racy, a professor of ethnomusicology at UCLA, tunes up a black, stringed instrument from Egypt, the rababah. "It's a coconut half covered in fish skin," Racy explains to the class with a wink, "one of the few musical instruments that is even halfway edible."

The all-too-brief folk-music section of the program concludes with Racy demonstrating the art of circular breathing on a deceptively simple little woodwind called a buzuqu. It's a stomping number.

"Can you explain how you did that?" an awed student asks.

"It's very simple," Racy says, to much disbelieving laughter. "When you're almost out of breath, you puff out your cheeks and keep the pressure on the instrument while you breathe in through your nose to fill your lungs."

"Like Dizzy Gillespie," another student calls out.

"That's right," Schnabel interjects. "Hubert Laws used to do that when he'd play three-minute solos, and people would be amazed, thinking he did it all in one breath."

The class is a labor of love for Schnabel, who pays the musicians out of his teaching fee. "As long as I don't lose too much money, I'm happy," he says. Instead of giving a final exam, Schnabel throws a party at his house in Venice.

"Next year I might opt for a really general music-appreciation class," says Schnabel, "a sort of wine-and-cheese thing at my house, something where we can listen to sufi singers and then Miles Davis' greatest solo, and talk about why music is like food, why voices are like silk."

*

Information: UCLA Extension: (310) 825-9064. Tom Schnabel's world music show, Cafe L.A., can be heard every Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on KCRW 89.9 FM.

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