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Watch: Arabic Music Class Bridges Cultures Through Melodies

Watch: Arabic Music Course
Bridges Cultures Through Melodies

by Linda Hou '13

Marcel Khalife concert photo by Ayman Alalao
Students perform with Marcel Khalife (seated with blue scarf) at a concert last month in Philadelphia.
A new Arabic music course offered this year is expanding Swarthmore's selection of already diverse music programs that includes Japanese drumming, Indonesian percussion, and African dance accompaniment. The course, Culture Context of Arabic Music, is offered by nonprofit Al-Bustan Seeds of Culture and is the first step by Al-Bustan's music program in bringing Arabic culture to college students.

"We're trying to establish in people an interest in Arabic music and to some extent culture - basically understanding Arabic culture through music," says Hanna Khoury, Al-Bustan music director and an instructor for the course with percussionist Hafez El Ali Kotain.

This semester, the class has about a dozen students who are learning both singing and percussion. Ozan Erturk '12, who played goblet-shaped drum Doueoumbek, says that despite having played percussion since before college, the class was an unique learning opportunity for him.

"Hafez has this really mixed percussion background that he can bring to Arabic music, which I really like," says Erturk. "I picked up some salsa from him and [learned] how to mix salsa with Arabic rhythms."

The class primarily is focused on music by acclaimed Lebanese composer Marcel Khalife and culminated in a concert with Khalife himself on March 13th. The Philadelphia concert featured performances by the Swarthmore singers as well as over 100 other performers from various Arabic music programs.

"We brought Marcel Kahlife, and within a month, the tickets sold out," Khoury says. "Most groups learned three songs, but the [Swarthmore] students performed 10 compositions and did an excellent job. Even Marcel was like, 'Wow, how did these people learn to do all this?'"

The Swarthmore students will perform again on April 8th.