Ghada Shbeir: Andalusian Steps in Beirut
By: Muhammad Hamdar
Published Friday, August 17, 2012
Beirut - Ghada Shbeir will be performing songs from her new album, Andalusiyya, at Madina Theater in Beirut tonight. The show will include muwashahat (Andalusian strophic songs) rearranged in a new style. The album was produced and distributed by Nadi Le Kol Nass.
New in this Shbeir album is the choice of songs that fall under the Samah (Permission) style of dancing. In Andalusian days, this style was considered an act of asking permission to dance by slowly swaying to its rhythm. In sessions when muwashahat were performed – particularly ones which included religious songs of praise – the person conducting the session, or the owner of the house, would be asked to give permission to those who wished to dance.
Playwright and theater historian Abdul-Fattah Rawas Qalaji describes this art, for which Aleppo is famous, “Samah is a modern term, not found in old dictionaries. The first person to use it was Butrous al-Bustani in his dictionary, Muhit Al-Muhit, where he wrote, ‘It is a dance by the sheikhs performed during religious rituals. It is performed in various formations, tunes, rhythms and steps in the form of musical pieces in which muwashahat and qudoud [popular songs originating from Aleppo] are sung.’”
This is the kind of physical reaction Shbeir wants at the concert marking the release of her album. The Lebanese singer describes Samah as more of a spiritual and mental style of modest dancing than a sensual one. The dance is not sexual in nature as it attempts no seduction.
Samah has vanished from popular culture and all attempts to bring it back into the limelight have failed. Most of the information about it is found in Western, rather than Arabic, sources. Shbeir has gone to great lengths to research the subject and with the help of a choreographer has been able to revive the lost movements and steps of Samah.
Reviving heritage has been Ghada Shbeir’s mission ever since her college years at Université Saint-Esprit De Kaslik (USEK), where she specialized in singing muwashahat and Syriac hymns. From early on in her career, she has dedicated herself to saving the ancient Levantine heritage of music, religious texts and muwashahat. Her album titled Muwashahat won the BBC 3 World Music Award in 2007.
Her new album, Andalusiyya, includes seven well-known muwashahat with new musical arrangements. She performs a solo vocal on the muwashah “Mala al-Kasat” (Filling the Glasses), because it is “specially sang to accompany Samah dancing,” as Shbeir tells Al-Akhbar.
After winning several prizes for muwashahat, Shbeir confides to Al-Akhbar that her commitment to the genre is a commitment to a heritage and style that have to be preserved and revived.
Shbeir is also working on a new release which will include some Lebanese songs. She believes that even though there are periods when people move away from original authentic styles, “work that reflects a certain culture has to carry on because it stems from the people spontaneously and honestly.” This is why she is not surprised to see so many new young groups reviving the vocal and musical heritage of the Levant.
Andalusiyya by Ghada Shbeir, 9.30 pm tonight at Madina Theater, Hamra, Beirut. For information: 03/888769.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.