The Middle East Comes to Bucknell: An Evening of Arab Music with member of the Al-Bustan Takht Ensemble


Tuesday, February 3, there was perhaps one of the most impressive displays of musicianship that I’ve seen brought onto Bucknell’s campus and there were only two musicians. Members of the Al-Bustan Takht Ensemble (an ensemble focused on teaching Arab culture through the arts and language), Arab percussionist Hafez Kotain and cellist/composer Kinan Abou-afach gave a performance of 6 pieces that not only enthralled the audience but also offered a glimpse into another culture of music that we don’t often get to see. Just for some background on Arab music, a lot of the Western musical conventions we are used to hearing are not as present. For example, one of the common rhythmic/metric patterns centers around 10 beats instead of 4 (actually a 10-8 meter); this is called Sama’i Thaqil with emphasis on the 1st, 6th, and 7th beats. They also play some pieces in recognizable meters so you won’t always be lost if you’re exposed to this music. Also, their tuning system is different from the Western 12-tone system we use. They use a lot more notes in their system that are known as microtones or sometimes quarter-tones (half the size of the half-tone, the smallest interval commonly used in Western music).

With no program and an hour to play anything they wanted, the two members of the ensemble put on an amazing show while teaching the audience about the culture of their music and its history. One of their pieces, “Morning”, composed by Abou-afach himself, featured a gorgeous cello solo that almost brought tears to my eyes. While the piece was actually about Abou-afach’s mother and her friends gossiping over coffee at 4:30AM on the Syrian landscape, it painted a beautiful picture of the landscape at sunrise. To finish out the concert, the duo played a piece that featured a 5-minute darbuka solo (a goblet drum) that was hands-down the greatest percussion solo I have ever witnessed. Between navigating every single possible division of every changing meter and pulling out all of the stops with every trick and hit in the book and showing off a little bit (some under-the-leg drumming and drum flips to name some), it was a performance I will never forget. Some of the other members of the audience feel the same way:

“The best, most exciting concert I’ve ever been to at Bucknell in terms of performance quality, artistic quality, and personal musical talent.” – Andy Loeshelle ‘15

This is only the first performance this semester from the Gallery Series as well so make sure to check out some upcoming performances too!

Bucknell NewsMarcus Schenck