Cal Poly San Luis Obispo Arab Music Ensemble
The Cal Poly Arab Music Ensemble performs the art and popular music of a wide range of Arabic-speaking societies and historically related cultures while particularly focusing on the areas around the Eastern Mediterranean. Arab art music has intersected substantially with folk and religious musical traditions and has benefited deeply from the contributions of interconnected social groups including men and women of diverse ethnic, religious, and philosophical backgrounds. It also has connected historically to neighboring cultures of the larger region including those of Persian/Iranian and Ottoman/Turkish music. The repertoire of the Arab Music Ensemble comprises pieces ranging from the Ottoman era up to the present and includes some of the longest performed genres of music in the world.
The music is rooted in the traditional systems of melodic and metric modes (maqam and iqa` systems), and takes the form of instrumental improvisation (taqsim), vocal improvisation (layali and mawwal), and pre- composed works in many formal genres (e.g., dulab, samai, and muwashshah). Traditional instruments employed include the oud (fretless lute), kamanja (Arabic violin), nay (reed flute), qanun (trapezoidal zither), riqq or daff (Arabic tambourine), darabukka or tabla (goblet drum), and others. Consistent with developments in composition and performance practice over the past century, the ensemble also employs instruments adapted from Euro-American traditions including the bass, cello, accordion, guitar, and drum set as well as Latin percussion, brass, and other instrumentation.
Works to be performed include some of the most celebrated repertoire of the region by composers, performers, and poets including Abdelhadi Belkhayat, Abdelkader Wahbi, and Ali Haddani of Morocco; Sayyid Darwish, Yunis Al-Qadi, and Fathi Qura of Egypt; and Fairuz, the Rahbani Brothers, Philemon Wehbe, and Ziad Rahbani of Lebanon.
The show will include contemporary works and traditional genres, such as the muwashshah, one of the oldest continuously performed art-music genres in the world, which in this case features an 11-beat metric mode.
Additional pieces to be performed come from the shared music traditions of the Ottoman era, including the short introductory dulab, the more elaborate samai with its 10-beat metric mode, and the 9-beat karshilima that is popular in Turkish and related music and dance.
A combination of about 25 instrumentalists, singers, and dancers will participate in the tour, which will contribute to the Arab Music Ensembles educational goals of fostering intellectual, artistic, and cultural exchange.
Cal Poly Music Professor Ken Habib, a composer, performer, and ethnomusicologist, will direct the show. San Luis Obispo dance director Jenna Mitchell will lead the dance troupe in exciting choreographies that dialogue with the music.
Ken Habib is a professor in the Cal Poly San Luis Obispo Music Department. Previously he taught music at Pomona College and the University of California, Santa Barbara; taught Arabic at Cuesta and Santa Barbara City colleges; and was the associate director of the Middlebury College Arabic School. His doctorate in ethnomusicology is with specializations in the Middle East and American popular music. His recent articles appear in such publications as The Encyclopedia of Islam, The Grove Dictionary of American Music, and NPRs Afropop Worldwide. Also a composer and performer, he has released albums of original Arab art music (Salam) and original American art song (Child in Me).
Jenna Mitchell is a co-director of the SaJa Middle Eastern Dance Company and the Cal Poly Arab Music Ensemble dance troupe as well as owner of World Rhythm and Motion Studio. She began her dance training at the age of 5, focusing on classical ballet. Later studies included jazz and modern dance, which she performed while a member of Cal Polys Orchesis Dance Company. Middle Eastern dance became her main focus over 15 years ago and has led her to study with master teachers in Egypt, Turkey, and the U.S. She teaches and guest choreographs locally and performs internationally.