On the night of October 7th, the Great Hall was filled with a unique blend of improvisational music. Finding inspiration in the roots of traditional Arab harmonies, Bassam Saba and his ensemble let their emotions conduct them in a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Saba displayed his world-renowned talent on the nay, an end-blown flute typically made of reed long a staple of Arab music, and the oud is a string instrument with origins in Persian history. Saba was joined Yaron Klein, assistant professor of Arabic at Carleton, on the violin and the oud, as well as Jamal Sinno, a master of the qanun and April Centrone on percussion.
The performance and the accompanying lecture held earlier the same day in the music hall were the first public events hosted by the newly-formed Department of Middle Eastern Languages and are part of Carleton’s Middle East Initiative.
Saba, who is from Lebanon, believes that “every culture has its own element” when it comes to musical expression. According to him, Arab nations put great emphasis on beautiful ornamentation in their respective cultures. “Decoration is very important,” said Saba, “it’s a part of everyday life.” It’s no surprise that this passion for decoration is an intrinsic part of his culture’s music as well.
Carleton’s own assistant professor Klein fit seamlessly into Saba’s ensemble, demonstrating his skill on the Arab version of the violin, which substitutes the strings traditionally found on a European model with strings in a GDGD format.
Klein’s contributions to the group made the night something truly unique. It was a free-flowing expression of musical talent that will never be heard again. As Saba aptly remarked, improvisation sessions are something “you never hear before, [and] you’ll never hear again. [they’re] in the moment.”
The ensemble spontaneously creates flowing music with sudden rhythm changes which Saba said embody “the noise of beauty” present in uniqueness of ornamentation. The four musicians make their coordination look effortless as their shifts in tempo and style are executed flawlessly. “Everyone puts his own ornamentation of how he feels at the moment,” says Saba.
Saba is a member of Simon Shaheen’s Near Eastern Music Ensemble, Yo Yo Ma’s Silk Road Project, and performs extensively in the United States, the Middle East, and throughout Europe.