UR Magazine, Feature / Album Review >>
An Amazing Journey in Iraqi-Middle Eastern Traditional Music
UR - al Salaam
Salaam, led by multi-instrumentalist and composer Dena El Saffar, is a Middle Eastern band based in the Midwest. The band has delighted audiences for years with its expansive repertoire of Middle Eastern and North African music, informing the uninitiated, and evoking nostalgia in listeners who are familiar with the art form.
The sound, while rooted in maqam (the modal system used throughout the Middle East), is infused with creative forays into other music genres. This is because El Saffar, who is a classically trained violist with a performance degree from the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music, has always listened to a wide variety of music.
Growing up in Chicago, she began learning Classical music on the violin at age six. On weekends, there were often “Iraqi Parties”, where everyone gathered to eat Iraqi food, while Arabic music played on the stereo. Adults would sit, talk and smoke cigarettes while the kids had great fun playing together and running rampant through the host’s home. At age 17, she travelled with her father to Baghdad. It was a life-changing experience, and the music of Iraq suddenly became very important: it was not just to be listened to, but learned and played.
It was only a few months later that Iraq became center stage of the first Gulf War. The immense heartbreak of the war prompted her to create a mission: to bring the beauty of Middle Eastern music and culture to U.S. audiences. Thus, the band Salaam was formed. El Saffar recruited many extraordinary musicians, and the group has steadily built a repertoire over the past two decades of music from Iraq, as well as Egypt, Palestine, Lebanon, Turkey, Greece and many other countries. They have performed weddings, festivals and cultural events throughout the Midwest, East and West Coast, and have been featured on NPR’s All Things Considered.
In October, Salaam’s 7th CD, Train to Basra and Other Stories will be released. This CD features El Saffar as a composer, performer, arranger and author – each track on the CD has a corresponding story in the CD booklet. The album is entirely instrumental; a tribute to El Saffar’s many years of playing in orchestras. The CD has a very full sound, and features a delightful array of acoustic musical instruments, including: viola, violin, cello, bass, guitar, accordion, nay, saxophone, trumpet, san?oor, óud, dumbek, riqq, tabl, doira and naqqarat.
There are many talented musicians featured on the album, some of whom are family members. Her husband, Tim Moore is the percussionist. Her brother, Amir El Saffar, and sister-in-law, Lety El Naggar, are featured prominently, as is Stephen Harms, Sam Finley and Svetla Vladeva.
09/04/13 >> go there
Salaam’s CD release tour is scheduled for October 2013. October 9th in Chicago; October 12th in Bloomington, IN; October 25th and 26th in New York City and Washington D.C. Dates are still being added and solidified so, please check back by visiting Salaam on FaceBook, on their website: www.SalaamBand.com