Detail, At Ease in the Countryside: Scholars and Fishermen. Yamamoto Baiitsu (1783–1856).

Much of the Japanese and Chinese music heard on this podcast evokes some aspect of nature: waves, birds, trees, sunrise, and the seasons. Japanese artists have sometimes depicted the koto (or a related instrument) being played by scholars contemplating the natural world, as in the screen above—an approach incorporated from Chinese tradition. Detail, At Ease in the Countryside: Scholars and Fishermen. Yamamoto Baiitsu (1783–1856). Japan, Edo period, 19th century. Six-panel screen; ink and light color on paper. Purchase, F1961.1

Music for the Soul:
From East Asia to the Middle East

Relax with gentle yet invigorating music performed by virtuoso artists from Japan, China, Syria, Iraq, Egypt, and the United States. These diverse concerts were recorded live at the Freer and Sackler Galleries between 2008 and 2019.

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Naseer Shamma’s Al-Oyoun Ensemble

Hear evocative solos and refreshing new arrangements of Arab music performed by Naseer Shamma and his Cairo-based ensemble. One of the Middle East’s leading ‘ud (lute) virtuosos, Shamma is joined by musicians performing on violin, flute (nay), dulcimer (qanun), cello, and percussion. The concert includes Shamma’s original compositions, Venus and Halat Wajd (Rapture.)

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Iraqi Jazz Fusions: Amir ElSaffar’s Two Rivers

Iraqi-American jazz artist Amir ElSaffar leads this cross-cultural quintet in a live concert rendition of Two Rivers, an original multi-movement work inspired by the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, the current strife in Iraq, and the common ground between American jazz and Iraqi classical music. ElSaffar sets the modes of Arab music to innovative grooves, free ensemble playing, and multilayered sound textures, resulting in a work that the BBC praises as “harrowing to absorb, full of as much beauty as pain.” He performs on trumpet, santur, and vocals, along with Rudresh Mahanthappa, saxophone; Nasheet Waits, drums; Carlo De Rosa, bass; and Jason Adasiewicz, vibraphone. This concert was made possible, in part, with support from the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies, Georgetown University, and was recorded in concert in the Freer Gallery’s Meyer Auditorium on February 7, 2009.

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Arab Music from Iraq:
Rahim Alhaj, oud; Souhail Kaspar, percussion

Iraqi-born musician Rahim Alhaj earned a 2008 Grammy nomination for his CD titled When the Soul Is Settled: Music of Iraq, released on the Smithsonian Folkways label. He studied at the famed Baghdad Conservatory under the late Munir Bashir, who was perhaps the greatest oud (Arab lute) master of the twentieth century. Since arriving in the United States in 2000, Alhaj has released three more CDs, including one of original music for oud and string quartet. Legendary jazz guitarist Bill Frisell calls Alhaj’s music “beautiful, mysterious, and powerful.” This concert on July 31, 2007, was made possible in part through support from the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies, Georgetown University.

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The Legacy of Munir Bashir: Omar Bashir, ’ud

Enjoy the expressive warmth of the Arab ’ud (lute) with virtuoso Omar Bashir in this concert honoring the memory of his father, Munir Bashir, who elevated the instrument to new prominence in the twentieth century. Omar Bashir coaxes a wealth of emotions from the guitar-like instrument, utilizing a variety of Arab melodic modes (maqam) and interpreting works made famous by his legendary father, including Love and Peace, Seville, and Andalusian Señora. This concert took place in the Freer Gallery of Art on September 14, 2003.

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