The sounds of Sufism mingle with Persian music during the Oud festival

When Persian-born wind instrumentalist Amir Shahsar performs with Turkish Sufi instrumentalist Isa Nasim and Turkish singer Selçukhan Yılma on Monday evening, it will mark a rare encounter between Persian and Turkish artists in Israel. .

The three artists perform as part of the Oud festival, which takes place from 3 to 12 November, at the Confederation House in Jerusalem, under the direction of Effie Benaya.

The three artists, accompanied by other musicians, will retrace the musical journey of the Sufi mystic, Jalal al-Din Rumi, who left Persia in the 13th century to go to Turkey through Kurdistan and Armenia. The show will include songs in Turkish, Persian, Arabic and Hebrew.

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During a rehearsal last week, several days before Nasim and Yılma’s arrival in Israel, Shahsar rehearsed with sitar player Gilad Weiss, daf drummer Ruhama Carmel and santur player Noam Shemesh, under the direction of Haviva Pedaya teacher, who translated the poem and the readings presented.

Shahsar, of Iranian origin, who lives in Israel, has placed the ney, an ancient Iranian flute, on his upper lip and his mobile phone on his leg, repeating the ancient Turkish melody of Sufi love and friendship.

Shahsar is the “master of Persian music,” Pedaya said of the Iranian-born instrumentalist. He described him as the only person able to weave together the Turkish and Persian music night of the 1300s, when much of Persia and Turkey were one empire.

“The concept made sense,” Pedaya said. “Persian and Turkish united: Amir, has combined these two shades. He is a cantor and a muezzin, he is Jewish, Arab and polyglot. “

Shahsar performs original compositions tinged with his baggage of Persian, Turkish, Armenian and Middle Eastern influences. His music is known for combining contemporary and traditional, sacred and popular sounds.

The 58-year-old musician was born in Iran and played the flute and Persian ney from an early age. At 24 he left for Turkey, where he learned traditional Turkish and Sufi music, as well as Turkish clarinet, before emigrating to Israel in 1989, where he added oud to his repertoire.

Persian instrumentalist Amir Shahsar at the Oud Festival 2022. (Credit: Oud Festival)

It was Shahsar who suggested including Turkish musicians, but he also needed other local artists “who could really play anything,” he said.

His band members include former students and fellow musicians. Carmel learned to play the daf, a large light drum, with Shehsi, while Weiss, who usually plays the guitar without buttonsI learned Persian sitar a few months ago.

During rehearsals, Shemesh played piano-like notes from the santur, a biblical-era instrument played with thin metal hammers touching the keys, a kind of hammered dulcimer.

The piece they were rehearsing was a long chanting poem about love and relationships, spiritual awakening and mystical concepts, said Shahsar, who then offered an impromptu Hebrew translation.

Haviva Pedaya, poetess and professor of Jewish history at Ben Gurion University of the Negev, who directs the Elyachar Center for Sephardic Heritage. (Credit: Haviva Pedaya)

“It’s upbeat music, but the words are a little painful,” Pedaya said. “It goes on and eventually we find ourselves laughing at the saddest things through music. “

The annual oud festival celebrates its 23rd edition with a full program of performances by local and visiting artists, including Mira Awad, Palestinian hip-hop and electronic music for younger guests at Mazkeka bar, and an evening celebrating the new album by Riff Cohen.

Younger generations will also contribute to the festival, including liturgical singers, Shir Yifrach and Yahala Lachmish and a series of events in the courtyard of the Khan Theater featuring musicians from the Oriental Music Department of the Jerusalem Academy of Music.

For more information and to purchase tickets, visit the Oud festival website.

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