Faraj Abyad and his orchestra
presented by the World Music Institute at Symphony Space
February 1, 2020
Arabic music is like a fine and complex miasma. It overwhelms us like a wave – its delicacy due in large part to the pinching of the zither. Most western songs express one mood or another. An Arabic song is like a city that experiences four seasons in one day. You can start with a fast and complex pace, then move on to a legato and dolce in a passage so slow that it is almost timeless, then relive with a burst of dramatic energy. And these songs often have endless, heavenly ones closed. If they look alike to our English-speaking ears, each has so much internal variety that we never tire of it.
On February 1, Faraj Abyad and his Orchestra gave a brilliant concert entitled Enta Omri and the golden age of Arabic music, sponsored by the World Music Institute at Symphony Space, New York. Mr. Abyad told us that his “country of origin” is Syria, but his English is impeccable. He explained that the golden age of Arabic music spanned the period from the 1940s to the 1970s. His mission, he explained, is “not only to preserve the old music but to continue it. “
The concert opened with the instrumentalists. They mixed old instruments with modern ones: ney (blown-bottom flute); drum; tabla (goblet drum); violin; cello; lute; zither; piano. During the concert, each instrumentalist had a wonderful solo.
After several minutes, Mr. Abyad entered, wearing a black three-piece suit without a tie. For nearly two hours, he and his orchestra enchanted the audience, presenting around 10 songs of about 10 to 15 minutes each, always singing in Arabic.
Mr. Abyad’s voice is remarkably supple. He can perform those characteristic Arabic trills and tricks seemingly effortlessly. He is moving from mezzo-forte To piano shortly. He prolongs the vowel between breaths, and sometimes, in the best moments of the concert, even as his two choristers chained the song. Her position was lightly paced and lively, sometimes with her right hand near her head.
And speaking of the choristers: each of the two women had her solo, her charming mezzo offering a formidable contrast to Mr. Abyad’s baritone. The choice to give them solos was a very good one – singers need vocal contrast in a concert.
Mr. Abyad and his instrumentalists performed a popular and beloved 1964 song titled Enta Omri, written by Mohammed Abdel Wahab, with lyrics by Ahmad Sahafiq Kamel. Translation from a Google search:
Yours eyes took me back to those bygone days -
They taught me to regret the past and its pain -
All I saw -
Before my eyes saw you.
What American pop singer could sing that in English?
The concert included the world premiere of a play with music by Mr. Abyad written to a poem by Aziz Gouwaid. The program introduces us to the words in Arabic, plus a transcription and translation. Mr. Abyad first taught the audience lead – and they were happy to help, singing along with him. English:
Don’t think that my words, oh my love,
Are a language used by the world of those in love
Because silence is also a language of love
And with it, the one in love expresses his longing.
Indeed, throughout the concert, the audience sang intermittently, spontaneously and quietly with Mr. Abyad – or applauded. The program called the songs “classics of Syria, Lebanon and Egypt” and most of them were, apparently, well known.
Those of us who do not speak Arabic would have liked to have had help receiving the lyrics – either from Mr. Abyad or from the World Music Institute. Are they all about romance? Are there any on the homeland?
Nevertheless, it was a great concert! We would love another one ASAP!
The orchestra: Faraj Abyad on vocals; Violin Layth Sidikon; Firas Zreikon qanun; Naseem Alatrash on cello; Fadi Saba at the piano; Faris Ishaq on ney; Zafir Tawil on ud; Gilbert Mansour on percussion; and
Percussion Alber Baseelon.
Faraj Abyad in 2019: