x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Reviving the traditions of Ramadan at Music Hall in Dubai

Music Hall is reviving an age-old Ramadan tradition: the venue's usual eclectic roster of musicians will be replaced with a cultural journey through Arab musical history.

Music Hall at Dubai's Jumeirah Zabeel Saray hotel will feature a programme of traditional Arab music and performance during Ramadan. Courtesy Music Hall
Music Hall at Dubai's Jumeirah Zabeel Saray hotel will feature a programme of traditional Arab music and performance during Ramadan. Courtesy Music Hall

With the nightlife scene taking a hiatus during the Holy Month, late-night happenings become all about the social gatherings at suhoors.

Most of them follow a similar protocol, with guests sitting under a tent, puffing away on shisha and filling up on Arab food.

But Music Hall at Dubai’s Jumeirah Zabeel Saray hotel has opted to try something different and revive an age-old Ramadan tradition.

This month, the venue’s usual eclectic roster of musicians from across the globe will be replaced with what could best be described as a cultural journey through Arabian musical history.

Michel Elefteriades, the Lebanese-Greek owner of Music Hall, a business he launched in Beirut, explains the thinking behind his Masrah Ramadan event.

The concept

With the choice of either closing down for Ramadan or choosing something the fits the spirit of the occasion, Elefteriades opted for the latter. But he didn’t want to organise your average suhoor.

“When I saw what everyone else was doing, I saw there was room for innovation,” he says.

“Usually, they just have an oud player in the corner, then they put lanterns everywhere. It’s very kitsch and plastic.”

So Music Hall is attempting to revive Masrah [Arabic for theatre] Ramadan, a tradition that dates back centuries across the Middle East.

In Ramadans of yesteryear in some parts of the Arab world, after breaking their fast, people would pack out the theatres to hear songs that were in the spirit of Ramadan.

“I thought we revive this and be more creative in making something that is entertaining for the people, yet respectful of the spirit of the Holy Month,” explains Elefteriades.

Each night five different singers from various parts of the Arab World, including the Gulf, Lebanon, Egypt and North Africa, will perform.

They will be backed by a musical ensemble known as a takht – a small orchestra made up of traditional instruments, such as the oud, the qanun, the violin and the flute. “It’s all classy classical music,” insists Elefteriades. “It will be nothing cheesy or kitsch.”

To further the nostalgic ambience, early 20th-century documentary footage from the Arab capitals of Beirut, Cairo and Jerusalem will be projected onto the walls.

Golden eras

Expect songs and sounds that reach back in time through Arabic history.

“Each part of the Arab world has its own golden era. It’s a very eclectic approach for each culture,” says Elefteriades.

“For Lebanese music, the golden era was the 1940s and 1950s. We even go back to Andalusian times, when the Muslims ruled part of Spain. For them, the golden era was much, much earlier – about 600 years ago.”

Respect for the season

Elefteriades insists that the shows will comply with the rules and regulations of Ramadan in the UAE.

“We’re not making an event that will make people get up and dance. It’s for listening, much more than for dancing,” he insists. “Also, this is a tradition that has lasted for a very, very long time. It’s part of the spirit of making good music during Ramadan – it has been around for a long time. So it’s really about reviving an old tradition.”

History lesson

Elefteriades believes the show will be a truly edifying experience, to both Arabs and non-Arabs.

“If someone likes really good music and is open minded, they will love it and discover a style of music they never heard before,” he says.

“The artists are really amazing. They are great artists from all over the Arab world. This could be a programme for a cultural festival in Europe.”

He adds: “I’m really excited about it. I don’t know how the people will react, but I know I have done something good.”

The Masrah Ramadan event at the Jumeirah Zabeel Saray hotel runs every night during Ramadan from 9pm to 2am. There is minimum spend per person of Dh115. For details, go to www.themusichall.com. For reservations call 04 447 6646

hberger@thenational.ae

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