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.