Umsiyat concert series at Mushrif Park kicks off with Lebanese artist Abeer Nehme
It’s said that music has the power to cross borders – but few artists have exerted quite as much energy exploring the ability of rhythm and melody to transcend time, place and faith as Abeer Nehme.
The Lebanese performer is one of those fluid talents best described as a polymath. A learned musicologist, devoted to the academic study of music’s roots, she is also an actor and TV presenter, who recently completed a four-year journey filming Ethnopholia Musiqa Al Chou’oub, a 40-episode musical documentary in which she criss-crossed the globe to explore the ethnic musical traditions of more than 10 countries.
But first and foremost, Nehme is a performer, a gifted vocalist who draws on these experiences to present her own concerts.
She will take to the stage at Abu Dhabi’s Mushrif Park on Sunday to launch the Umsiyat concert series, crossing cultures and religions in a programme showcasing Islamic and Christian devotionals alongside Sufi mysticals, ancient lullabies and folk songs.
The event is titled Songs for a Spiritual Journey but, she says: “It’s not religious, it’s spiritual. It’s a cultural dialogue – these melodies will open up a wide space.
“It’s very urgent these days, because you see terrorism and people fighting about things small and big – but really, deep down, we’re all the same and through music we can really see who we are. Music is beautiful. I wish we could all communicate in this language.”
Nehme will perform these works backed by modern musicians playing keyboards, bass, kanoun, flute and violin. She will be accompanied by the Szent Ephraim Choir, a Hungarian ensemble she met while filming her documentary. Nehme will also perform a cappella during the show.
Referred to as the “All Styles Specialist”, Nehme’s most polymathic claim to fame might be her ability to sing in more than 25 languages – Sunday’s concert, for example, will include works in Aramaic, Arabic, Greek, Sardinian and Hungarian. But, she says: “I don’t sing anything I don’t understand.”
Also on the programme will be three pieces from Nehme’s upcoming album, which is a collaboration with Marcel Khalife. The renowned Lebanese composer has set texts, old and new, from acclaimed Arab poets to fresh orchestral scores recorded by ensembles in Prague, Delhi, Qatar, Paris and Berlin.
Following on from successful albums, including Abeer Salati, the new two-disc set might be a career high for Nehme. “I took this work so far, it’s like looking in the mirror and seeing myself,” she says. “It’s become a part of me”.
Sunday’s concert will be Nehme’s biggest in the UAE to date, and marks the latest chapter in a continuing relationship with the country. At 2014’s Abu Dhabi Book Fair, she was commissioned by Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority, who also support Sunday’s concert, to compose and perform a piece celebrating the great Arab poet Abu at-Tayyib al-Mutanabbi.
She has also been asked to write the theme music to the upcoming Sheikh Zayed Book Award – a “beautiful” work that was recorded this week. Nehme also hopes to film a documentary exploring the musical traditions of the UAE.
“In our lives, we’re always searching to get together with others in a place where we feel comfortable,” she says, “and the Emirates is the best place where people can gather, develop and grow – themselves and the country. It’s the best example of this in the Arab World – and the whole world. This mission of peace and community and differing lives living together and growing together – what can be a better place?”
• Abeer Nehme is at Mushrif Park on Sunday, from 8pm. Tickets start at Dh50 (Dh30 for students) on www.ticketmaster.ae. For more on Umsiyat, visit www.abudhabievents.ae