A night with the maestros
February 13, 2018 | 4:37 PM
by Ismael David Mujahid

As a lover of international music, when I came to know that Ensemble Ibn Arabi would be performing traditional songs from Morocco right here in Oman my joys knew no bounds. After all, it is not often that a band of this stature comes all the way from Tangier to Muscat to perform.

The band led by founder Ahmed Elkheligh was joined by Haroun Taboul on the ‘oud’, Abdul Waheed on the ‘nai’ (a rim blown flute), Julien Lahaye on the ‘bendir’ and ‘darbouka’ drums, Ousama on the ‘kamenjeh’ violin, and lead vocalists Abdullah El Mansour who would also chip in with a bendir of his own. Ahmed played the 26-string ‘qanun’, a flat instrument used in the Middle East.

The show began with a short speech by Ahmed followed by the powerful vocals of Abdullah took on a musical trip through the mystical and rhythmic sounds of Morocco’s musical traditions.

Drums, a reed flute, and the strings of a guitar were completely in sync with Abdullah’s masterful voice. During the concert I felt as if I had been transported to the halls of Fez. As the applause died down and the Ensemble disappeared from the stage, I was eager to meet and learn more from them. Haroun Taboul and his band mates were more than happy to share their thoughts. “The ‘nubah’ music has its origins in Arab Andalucia, a period in European history where predominately Muslim kingdoms ruled large parts of Iberia and Lusitania,” Taboul explained.

He said that from 786-1492, a society widely regarded as a golden age was created by an atmosphere of religious tolerance, according to scholars such as Maria Rosa Menocal, author of the international bestseller ‘Ornament of the World’. It was in this environment that great cultural traditions were born, including the distinct style of music that Ensemble Ibn Arabi had shared with the fans around the world. “I’ve been playing for most of my life,” Ahmed said. From a young age, he was surrounded by music, poetry, and culture of his Sufi predecessors. Around 30 years ago, he took the decision to create an Ensemble. In 1993, they began to take their music beyond Morocco and have performed in cultural hubs as diverse as Memphis in the USA, Murcia in Spain, Paris, and Cairo. “We opened the Cervantino Festival in Mexico, performed in Bosnia to promote love and peace after the war ended, and even took our music to Kasr El Nil, where Umm Kulthum used to sing, ” he added. Ahmed’s passion for music and its ability to bring people together is clear as he emphasises the important role it has played in promoting peace and tolerance.

It was clear that what they did extended far beyond a musical performance. Right here in Oman, just as they have done all over the world, they transcended language to unite people of all nationalities in a true celebration of the tolerance adopted by their ancestors. —[email protected]

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