Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

World Music Review

A Spiritual Spin on the Listening Experience

March 20, 2001|DON HECKMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

In the Sufi tradition, music possesses powers associated with meditation, ecstasy and a state of grace. Those qualities are referred to as sama ("listening"), experiencing music in a spiritual fashion. Since the 13th century, they have been associated with the trance-producing qualities of spinning dance.

Sunday night at UCLA's Schoenberg Hall, vocalist Sheikh Hamza Shakkur, the Ensemble Al-Kindi and the Whirling Dervishes of Damascus offered a sampling of the Syrian version of this expressive art. The evening included four waslas, or suites, of songs and improvisation. Each was performed by an ensemble of kanun (a kind of zither), oud (lute), nay (end-blown flute) and riqq (frame drum), and structured within different maqams, or scale or modes.

The results were fascinating, if a bit uneven. Shakkur's delivery of the ornate vocal twists and turns of the classical Syrian style was masterful, filled with delicate melismas and ornamentation. The ensemble, led by kanun player Julien Jalal Eddine Weiss, a French convert to Islam, had a few less-than-compelling passages, and nay player Ziyad Kadi Amin was not gifted with the lush array of sounds one usually associates with this instrument. But there also were moments when the music came alive, especially during an improvisation by Weiss based on the microtonal taqsim maqam.

Each of the waslas, which included improvisations, vocals, prayers and composed instrumental passages, also featured whirling dances by the company's four dervishes. Often holding their left hands lowered and their right hands raised to symbolize the linkage between heaven and Earth, they were a marvel to see, perfect visual representations of the spiritual powers of music and dance.

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|