x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Traditional music's all in the mix

Sharjah Art Foundation helped send the Visiting Tarab work to the Performa 11 biennal in New York.

Tarek Atoui's Visiting Tarab will feature remixes of traditional Arab music recorded up to 100 years ago.
Tarek Atoui's Visiting Tarab will feature remixes of traditional Arab music recorded up to 100 years ago.

SHARJAH // Led Zeppelin, James Brown and Kool and the Gang are the sorts of musicians usually sampled by remix artists.

But the creators of an innovative work have found their inspiration in traditional Arab music recorded up to 100 years ago on 78rpm shellac discs.

This venerable style of music is being brought back to life and transformed by a multinational group of contemporary artists including hip-hop, pop, electronic, noise and improvisation performers.

And the result is set to extend the reach of Sharjah's arts initiatives all the way to New York.

The premiere of Visiting Tarab, an evening of music organised by the Lebanese sound artist Tarek Atoui, will take place in New York on November 5 as part of Performa 11, the world's largest visual art performance biennial. The work has been commissioned by the organisers in partnership with the Sharjah Art Foundation and there are plans to stage the work here in March.

Visiting Tarab contains elements taken by Mr Atoui and his fellow artists from the world's largest collection of classical Arab music.

The recordings are owned by Kamal Kassar, a collector who divides his time between Dubai and his home country, Lebanon.

The archive consists of fragile 78rpm records and studio tapes from between 1903 and 1950 and includes works by leading performers of the time such as Abdo Al Hamouli, Sami Al Shawwa and Youssef Al Manialawi.

"One of my sincere wishes is that through this experience young musicians and composers will relink with this tradition," said Mr Atoui, 31. "A mistake with music in the Middle East at the moment is that we are very much influenced by the West and are forgetting our traditions and heritage."

Mr Atoui studied music in France at the National Conservatory in Reims and has worked and performed in Abu Dhabi, Sharjah, Jordan, Singapore, Cambodia, France, Holland, Germany and Portugal. His discography includes Un-drum 1, 2 and 3.

The 17 musicians joining him for the New York premiere will include Uriel Barthelemi, Anti-Pop Consortium, Jonathan Butcher and DJ Spooky. The artists are using a variety of techniques in addition to sampling to create the five-hour work, and the line-up includes three singers.

"They are all musicians I have a lot of respect for," said Mr Atoui. "They are the people I used to listen to 10 years ago, so I'm really honoured to be surrounded by such giants of music."

The foundation's associate director, Judith Greer, said: "This is the first time an institution like the Sharjah Art Foundation has partnered with such a prestigious organisation as Performa to introduce a type of Arab music to an audience.

"It not only involves contemporary musicians but they are working with an archive of traditional Arab music, so it combines the old and the new in a quite extraordinary way.

"It's allowing young artists to get the kind of exposure they would never get if it was just an event here in the Middle East."

Ali Al Saloom, who writes The National's Ask Ali column, said: "In terms of having Arabic art at a contemporary showcase I think this is really great, it's beautiful to see. It's good to be able to reach out to Performa and be accepted by other artists."

Performa 11 is the fourth staging of the biennial and will run for three weeks from November 1. The Visiting Tarab premiere will take place at New York's SIR Stage 37 venue.