When: Thu., June 16, 6:30 p.m. 2011
Billed as Dandana: A Celebration of Muslim Voices, this compelling double bill presents two very different kinds of music from the Islamic world. Headliner Hakim is one of Egypt's greatest singers of shaabi, or street pop, which combines traditional instruments and folkloric melodies with urban dance beats and a propulsive contemporary vocal style; it emerged in the late 60s, in part as a nationalistic response to the country's humiliating defeat by Israel in the Six-Day War. For much of the past decade, Hakim flirted with global success thanks to an affiliation with American producer Miles Copeland, who had him singing duets with everyone from James Brown to Latin pop diva Olga Tañon, but today he's once again without a Western label. Some of Hakim's music is disagreeably slick or driven by distractingly huge programmed beats, but his voice and his pop-star charisma can outshine the glossiest arrangements—and in his live shows he strips away much of the studio lacquer.
Singer Alim Qasimov is the preeminent exponent of mugham, an Azerbaijani classical form that generally involves three traditional instruments—a frame drum called the daf, a long-necked lute called the tar, and a spike fiddle called the kamancheh—and takes its lyrics from the work of the country's most beloved poets down through the centuries. Qasimov and his daughter Fargana, who also sings, are such remarkable improvisers that they all but transcend the form, which is partly why they've lately been heard so often in the company of admirers from the world of Western classical music, like Yo-Yo Ma and the Kronos Quartet. For last year's Rainbow (Smithsonian Folkways), jazz trombonist Jacob Garchik arranged traditional mugham music for a ten-piece ensemble that combined Kronos with Qasimov's sextet (which adds an oboe called the balaban and a drum called the naghara to the customary instrumentation). As superb as the results are, there's still nothing like hearing the Qasimovs' group on its own. —Peter Margasak