Forget the iffy politics: Syria has got some great music. It is the country of legendary oud (lute) maestro Farid Al-Atrash as well as Sabah Fakhri, an iron-larynxed singer who for many years held the world record for the longest uninterrupted vocal performance (10 hours). More recently, the likes of Kulna Sawa and qanun (zither) virtuoso Abdullah Chhadeh have attracted widespread acclaim with their fusions of traditional folk forms and contemporary Western music.
Hewar continue this trend. Their name translates as “dialogue,” which is a pretty apt moniker for a group who meld traditional Arabic folk with Western jazz, classical and opera music. They were formed in 2003 by clarinetist Kinan Azmer, an alumnus of New York’s Juilliard School, and oud player Issam Rafea. Joined by soprano singer Dima Orsho and a rhythm section, they flit nimbly between supple jazz grooves and furious dervish whirls without ever slipping into the blandness that characterizes so much contemporary world fusion.
With tours of Europe and the United States and a pair of albums under their belt, Hewar are appearing in Japan for the first time as part of the Arab Festival 2008, a low-key series of events aimed at furthering dialogue between Japan and the Middle East. On March 22, event space Uplink is holding a symposium about Arabic media, with three sessions focusing on women in the media and animation. The same week, the Japan Foundation is curating the 4th Arab Film Festival, with contemporary cinema from Syria, Jordan, Egypt, Tunisia, Lebanon and Algeria.
Hewar perform with Aramaki Band at Shinjuku Pit Inn on March 22, 8 p.m. start. Tickets are ¥3,500 in advance, ¥4,000 on the door; tel. (03) 3354-2024. The Arab Festival 2008 symposium will be held at Uplink in Shibuya on March 22, from 11 a.m. to 4.30 p.m. Entry is free with one drink order (¥500); tel. (03) 6825-5502. The Arab Film Festival 2008 runs from March 17 to 19 at Sogetsu Hall and March 23 to 25 at OAG Hall, both in Akasaka. For details, call (03) 3265-1433.