Out of Tenderness and Wisdom: Ramzi Aburedwan, Reflections of Palestine

By Daniel Garrett

Ramzi Aburedwan, Reflections of Palestine
Riverboat Records/World Music Network, 2012

Art can encourage more than tolerance: it can encourage respect and understanding.  In the Palestinian musician Ramzi Aburedwan’s blend of quick rhythms and melancholy tones are both sensuality and thought.  Of course, there is a timeless quality in such music.  Ramzi Aburedwan, a musician of viola and bouzouk, was born in Bethlehem in 1979, and he studied at the Edward Said Conservatory of Music in Ramallah and the National Regional Conservatory of Angers in France.   He performs European classical music and Arabic music, as well as his own Palestinian music.  Bouzouk-player Ramzi Aburedwan’s Reflections of Palestine reminds me a little of Spanish music.  (Could it be that the Middle East influenced Spain?  Yes.)  Music is almost always a shared thing, a common treasure.   I can’t say this music is calming, as it is full of detail, intensity, shifts, requiring attention—but it is enriching.

Ramzi Aburedwan is a founder of a music school in Palestine, Al Kamandjati; and he is a leader of the Palestine National Ensemble of Arabic Music.  It is a privilege, and also a challenge, to hear his work.  Without words, music must work on a more imaginative level, deeper, more wide-ranging, suggestive; and this music does.   It has rhythm and speed; and as it is of another culture, it can be hard to describe precisely.  “Rahil (Exile)” is somber, with sparse notes; a quiet, meditative rumble, speculative and teasing.  Pace is quickened for a more dancing rhythm—a short, darkly sensuous repeated rhythm.  The shifts in rhythm seem more formal than improvised—their structure is perceptible, orderly.   Intricate and satisfying.  “Sans Adresse” has low notes (bass notes), but a walking rhythm, a plummy timber, with a marvelous moodiness.  “Sodfa (Coincidence)” is quick.  “Bahar” has such a clear, thoughtful pace—then a shift in speed (faster) and volume (louder), with something cheerier in mood; and something of a waltz is in it—a kind of formal dance, but a dance nonetheless.   There is a nice harmony among the instruments—a bouzouk, accordion, oud, and percussion. The bouzouk is a kind of lute; and it has roots in Asia Minor and Greece.  The accordion, a bellowing harmonica capable of many sounds, is sometimes called a squeezebox.  The small-necked, bowl-shaped oud is also a kind of lute.

In “Raja” one can imagine an open expanse.  Yet, rather than tension then release, it suggests release then tension.  “Tahrir (Liberation),” inspired by a girl cousin whose name is Tahrir, which means liberation or freedom, is a swirl of many fast notes—ongoing swirls.  “Samai Farah Faza” is almost ceremonial in its quality, with a serene thoughtfulness; an established pace with a dignified ornamentality.   The moderate rhythm could be called earthy but it has no vulgarity.  A cordial dance is suggested.  “Bordeaux” is fast, somewhat lush, with tempo and tone shifts, all quickly made and somewhat briefly sustained.  Contrasting rhythms too.  Boisterous, clapping music is “Andalus,” while “Gitans En Orient (Gypsies of the Orient)” is mysterious, unique, dizzying; and as with “Bordeaux” and “Andalus,” the song “Gitans En Orient” seems to deliver a climax, a moment of energy, reach, and satiation.

Daniel Garrett, a graduate of the New School for Social Research, and the principal organizer of the Cultural Politics Discussion Group at Poets House, is a writer whose work has appeared in The African, All About Jazz, American Book Review, Art & Antiques, The Audubon Activist, Black Film Review, Changing Men, Cinetext, Contact II, Film International, The Humanist, Hyphen, Illuminations, Muse Apprentice Guild, Option, Pop Matters, Quarterly Black Review of Books, Rain Taxi, Red River Review, Review of Contemporary Fiction, Wax Poetics, and World Literature Today.  Daniel Garrett has written extensively about international film for Offscreen, and comprehensive commentary on music for The Compulsive Reader.