Asil: Reviving Musical Heritage from Within
By: Bashir Sfeir
Published Thursday, August 9, 2012
On Thursday night, the Asil musical ensemble will be presenting a multifaceted performance as part of an effort to honor the music of the Arab renaissance.
Almost a year has passed since the last cultural activity held by Arabic Music Archiving and Research (AMAR). Then, the organization honored one of the most eminent musicians of the Arab renaissance period, Sheikh Youssef al-Manialawi on the centenary of his death (1911).
Last year’s event had both artistic and academic dimensions, and was performed in Lebanon and Egypt. It included an album release, a concert, and a talk about Manialawi. The band that performed Manialawi’s repertoire last year forms the core of the Lebanese-Egyptian ensemble, Asil, which specializes in reviving traditional Arabic music.
This evening, AMAR is holding an evening of traditional chants and contemporary Arabic music by Asil at the Madina Theater in Beirut. The group now includes Mustafa Said, Sheikh Ehab Younis, Ghassan Sahhab , Oussama Abdel Fattah, Joss Turnbull, Abed Kobeissy, Bilal Bitar, Ali Hout, George al-Sheikh, and Reda Bitar.
Last year, Sheikh Ehab Younis impressed the audience with his distinguished presence and performance. He added a special flavor to the tribute to Manialawi. Thursday, the talented Egyptian sheikh returns to Beirut, and together with his colleagues in Asil, will offer an evening of music that is part of Ramadan’s cultural activities taking place in the city.
The program has two main parts: the first consists of traditional chanting performed by Sheikh Younis, and will include pre-composed religious chants and unrehearsed supplications. The second is a series of instrumental and vocal works played in the Bayati key (maqam) composed by Mustafa Said with lyrics from the poems of Omar al-Khayyam, Abu Yazid al-Bustami, Jamil Sedqi al-Zahawi, and others.
The revival of the traditional instrumental and vocal heritage of the Arab renaissance period has taken center stage recently. Groups like AMAR, have made huge inroads, at least in the first step of collecting these treasures, preserving them, and documenting them with an honesty and professionalism not often seen in our society.
But those who defend the value of this heritage are swimming against a tide that is difficult to resist. Still, perseverance and efforts put forth have achieved real results. We can see this in the growing audiences for such events.
Asil Concert: Tonight at 9:30pm in Madina Theater, Beirut. For more information call 01-343834
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.