News Column

Shaar on the dialogue of tarab

July 15, 2014

By Zalfa Halabi, The Daily Star, Beirut, Lebanon

July 15--BEIRUT -- "I love music," declares Abdel Karim al-Shaar. "Most people think I only like, and listen to, tarab. In reality I love beauty. Music, all sorts of it, makes beauty visible."

The Tripoli-born vocalist has become a regular fixture at Hamra's Metro al-Madina these past few months. Each concert in this popular series takes up a single tune from the songbook of Umm Kulthum.

During Eid, Shaar returns to the Metro to perform "Habibi Yas3id Awqathihi," Mahmoud Bayram al-Tunsi's 1943 collaboration with composer Zakariya Ahmad.

This week Shaar will headline Masrah al-Madina's "Ramadaniyat" concert series, whose all-tarab program also includes shows by Khaled El Abdallah, Ghada Ghanem and Shouyoukh al-Tarab, with the latter performing a pair of shows.

Shaar & Co. start the series with a rendition of "Al-Qalb Yashak kul Jamil" (The heart adores all beauty), another Umm Kulthum favourite.

The Egyptian chanteuse's friend and first composer Zakariya Ahmad composed the song, Shaar said, during Ramadan of 1964. Later in her career she increasingly collaborated with Riad Al Sanbati, a younger composer, who rearranged Ahmad's score for her.

This rendition Shaar and his ensemble will perform will effectively be a new arrangement. "This composition will be challenging," he muses. "Reconciling both versions is a delicate task."

Umm Kulthum's first Ramadan performance of "Al-Qalb Yashak kul Jamil" was staged in 1971. The lyrics express a love of one true God.

"For me the best songs written and performed by Al-Sitt Umm Kulthum were during Ramadan," Shaar opines, "because for me she sings Islam in its true meaning."

Shaar's vocal training began when he worked as a muazzin, calling devout Muslims to pray, in Tripoli.

"The mosque was for me a school and a refuge," he says. "When I was 13 years old, after I had finished the azzan, I would have listeners and worshippers congratulate me."

His fan base, he recalls with amusement, dates from then. "I used to sit atop the maydan a good half hour before it was time [to call azzan] and enjoy the scenery. The smell of orange trees was lovely, and even more so when I would vocalize Quranic verses, and hear my own reverberations.

"Now when I sing, I see colors. A tune becomes a portrait. I start imagining a place and I try to translate this play through music to the audience. Jazz for example, is dark and for me the color of jazz is black. However when I sing jazz, I see beauty in it."

His experiments with tarab, he says, stem from his early training in Quranic recitation.

A central facet of his technique is interpolation -- festooning his extended performances with references to other songs and bits of poetry.

Shaar credits renowned Qaris (Quran reciter) Sheikh Mustafa Ismail with being his artistic inspiration and a spiritual guide, but he acknowledges finding inspiration in others who worked with the Quranic tajwid form -- Sheikh Sayyed Darwich, Zakariya Ahmad, Sheikh Sayyed Meekawi and revolutionary leftist Sheikh Imam.

"We practice and have a structure, but there is always a leeway for improvisation," Shaar says.

"It is not improvisation per say. I like to think about it as transference of energy.

"Music is communication, and I have to sense when it is right for me to improvise, depending on the connection on stage between the musicians, the crowd and myself. I cannot calculate beforehand where and how to deviate.

"We practice a composition, but the composition itself allows for several interpretations. It is not a tune that I keep on repeating, as if it is on playback. Music revives my organs, it keeps me alive." He smiles again. "Funnily enough, after a concert I walk out and feel like I haven't eaten in a week."

"Ramadaniyat" runs at Masrah al-MadinaJuly 16-23, with ticketing at Librairie Antoine. Shaar will perform "Habibi Yas3id Awqathihi" at Metro al-Madina on July 28.


(c)2014 The Daily Star (Beirut, Lebanon)

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Source: Daily Star, The (Beirut, Lebanon)

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