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World Music Review

Charismatic Al-Saher Transcends Language

April 23, 2001|DON HECKMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Kazem Al-Saher is not a familiar name to most American music fans. But it should be. One of the most popular artists in Middle Eastern music, Al-Saher is a performer whose vibrant voice and charismatic presence reach easily beyond national boundaries.

His remarkable performance at the Hollywood Palladium on Saturday, in a show that found him onstage for a nonstop three hours, transcended the limitations of language.

Employing intricate nuances of tone and accent, communicating an array of emotions via subtle movements of his eyes and hands, Al-Saher delivered his love songs with a dramatic presentation in which words, despite their great importance in Arabic song, were only one element in a rich, theatrical tapestry of meaning.

Unlike most Middle Eastern pop-oriented artists, Al-Saher remains firmly in touch with many elements of the area's classical music. Adept with the sensuous, microtonal elements of the maqamat, or modes, essential to the genre, he occasionally opened pieces with brief recitative-like passages in which his fluid voice soared freely through intricate melodic ornamentation.

Although he was accompanied by an 11-piece ensemble (one-third the orchestra he typically employs), the focus never shifted from Al-Saher.

Standing for virtually his entire set, smiling at the flow of fans attempting to hand up notes and requests, he was fully in command of the evening. As one familiar hit followed another, the capacity crowd, swaying, waving their arms with the rhythm, captivated by every note, joined in the songs--a convincing exhibition of why Al-Saher is a Middle Eastern superstar, and why, at 39, he possesses so much potential to reach a much wider international audience.

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