The inaugural Sharjah World Music Festival kicked off last night in Masrah Al Qasba with a sparkling performance by Naseer Shamma.
Backed by a cracking six piece band, including the Pakistani sitarist Ashraf Sharif Khan, the Iraqi oud maestro's suite of new compositions and old favourites took us on a musical tour of the region stretching from Spain to the Gulf.
A story teller first and foremost, each piece found Shamma exploring a concept; the aim is not to seek a resolution but to initiate a conversation hopefully extending beyond the stage.
The evocative Min Al Dhakra had Shamma delving into the oud’s oriental roots; his soloing moving effortlessly between eastern modes and flamenco flourishes. Just when it seemed Shamma twisted himself into knots, the backing band - with it’s percussion, nai, bass and piano - arrived and took the affair towards a brighter direction.
This interchange is a hallmark of the set.
In Rihlat Al Arwah (Journey of Souls) Shamma and Khan swapped leads as each virtuoso took turns exploring the existential topic.
Under Khan’s it is a reflective affair, the droning sitar notes adding a mysticism suiting the subject.
Shamma is more direct, his fierce plucking exudes certainty: we are going somewhere, he seemed to say, and it wont be the scenic route.
Nostalgia for Cordoba was replete with wistful pastoral passages with Hani Al Badri’s nai leading us on a tour of the region’s mountain and fields. The airy Taba Sabahki Baghdad was performed in Maqam Al Nami; a special musical mode directly linked to Iraq.
The musical odyssey also made a stop in the UAE.
Shamma introduced the rather jaunty Etihad as a composition inspired by UAE National day celebrations two years ago.
The unity Shamma witnessed was reflected in the full band performance, Moustafa Hussein’s jazzy percussion work being a standout.
Speaking after the show Shamma expressed a deep satisfaction with the performance.
“You normally get nervous opening a new festival,” he said.
“We prepared for this and I am so happy the crowd appreciated it. There was a great atmosphere in the room and we really enjoyed ourselves on stage.”
The musical notes were not only limited to the main stage, on the free outdoor stage Colombian guitarist Alex El Cantane performed a groovy Latin inspired set of instrumentals and covers that got the crowd moving.