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World Music Review

Razbar Ensemble Raises Spirits

April 29, 2002|DON HECKMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

It's not quite appropriate to describe the appearance by the Razbar Ensemble at the Wadsworth Theatre on Saturday night as a "performance." Despite its entertaining aspects, the event is more correctly identified as a devotional experience.

The Razbar Ensemble, based in Germany since it was organized in 1997, consists of Kurdish members of the Ahl-e Haqq sect, a mystical Sufi order founded in the 15th century. The makeup of the Razbar Ensemble reflects the Ahl-e Haqq willingness--rare in such orders--to permit men and women to take part together in devotional celebrations.

Their presentation consisted of two segments. The first was a djamm, or gathering, focused around the chanting and ecstatic expression of zekr--spiritual hymns and poetry.

The second was a Tchuppi dance in which a line of colorfully garbed female dancers, moving through the hopping and skipping steps characteristic of the genre, combined with a group of males to simulate a wedding party.

It was the opening segment, however, that created the most impact. The 20-plus members of the ensemble, dressed in white and seated on the floor of the stage, were accompanied by players of the tanbur, a long-necked, lute-like instrument; the kamancheh, or spiked fiddle; and the daf, or frame drum. The music was trance-like, intended to build spiritual ecstasy rather than display instrumental virtuosity.

As the intensity of the music, rhythms and chanting built, individual members entered their own realms of spirituality, bodies moving, arms waving, heads turning. In the audience, the aisles filled with people responding in similarly fervent fashion--a remarkable display of the Razbar Ensemble's capacity to generate transcendent powers of communal expression.

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