Al-Bustan bridges Arab and Latin rhythms with Rolando Morales-Matos at the Trinity Center tomorrow

Rolando Morales-Matos | photo via
Rolando Morales-Matos | photo via

One of Philadelphia’s most exciting ongoing musical showcases, the monthly Arab music concert series from Al-Bustan, manages to routinely fill the Trinity Center for Urban Life to near-capacity. There’s a great reason for this. Besides providing a rare and comprehensive crash courses in musical traditions from throughout the Middle East, this series (to which The Key has devoted periodic coverage) brings trailblazing musicians from various disciplines into active collaboration with Al-Bustan’s own cohort of virtuoso Arab classical instrumentalists, the resident Takht Ensemble.

Previous concerts brought the Takht Ensemble together with American classical guitarist Jason Vieaux, Iraqi-Canadian rapper The Narcycist, and Tunisian chanteuse Sonia M’Barek – all of whom are well-respected in their own worlds and reconstructing musical foundations with these collaborations. For their last concert of the season, entitled “Revisiting Hybridity: Latin and Arab Rhythms”, the Takht Ensemble partners with Puerto Rican-born percussionist Rolando Morales-Martes. Best known as the assistant conductor for the heralded stage version of Disney’s The Lion King, Morales-Martes also contributes to other film scores alongside recurring gigs with the Ron Carter Foursight Jazz Quartet, the Philadelphia and Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestras, and several Latin and Jazz groups in New York City. If past collaborations are any indication, this performance will produce new interpretive foundations for the melding of historically distanced traditions.

In keeping with Al-Bustan’s multifaceted approach to Arab cultural enrichment and literacy, Morales-Martes will be joined on stage by elementary student percussionists in the organization’s educational program at Kensington’s Moffet School. This is Al-Bustan’s final concert until October and promises to close out their spring series on strong footing.

“Revisiting Hybridity: Latin and Arab Rhythms begins at the Trinity Center for Urban Life (22nd and Spruce streets) at 8 p.m. Saturday. Click here for tickets and info.


Al-Bustan Kicks off 2014 With We Are The Medium from the Takht Ensemble and The Narcicyst

The Narcicyst | photo via the artist’s Facebook

2013 was a big year for cross-disciplinary collaboration in Philadelphia – that is, if you knew where to look for it. Under the surface of the biggest headline-grabbing musical moments that hit local artists, arts and community organizations like Al-Bustan were busy premiering new music that broke barrier between Arab classical (in which its resident Takht Ensemble is most clearly versed) and other revered styles like Ladino.

They take their ever-churning momentum into overdrive with an already-packed 2014 season, starting off with a concert and series of workshops entitled We are the Medium. The performance charts new territory for the Takht Ensemble as they collaborate with Iraqi-born, Montreal-based emcee The Narcicyst to bring their respective worlds closer together.

For his part, The Narcicyst’s material resonates in the same creative headspace as artists like Mos Def and Kanye West (with both of whom he’s shared the stage) and explores faith, heritage, and the human condition over soul-tinged patchwork beats with tremendous sophistication and resolve. His 5-day residency began last night at Penn’s College Hall and ends with Sunday’s performance at Trinity Center for Urban Life. You won’t want to miss this chance to experience this idiosyncratic take on live-instrument hip-hop.

Click here for more details about The Narcicyst’s performance and residency.


Al-Bustan’s Arab music concert series builds bridges across communities and cultures

Hanna Khoury (left) with Marcel Khalife, "the Bob Dylan of the Middle East" | Photo by Dana Scherer |
Hanna Khoury (left) with Marcel Khalife, “the Bob Dylan of the Middle East” | Photo by Dana Scherer |

Philadelphia can often seem like a place removed from the rest of the world. Despite the immense diversity of religions, ethnicities, and cultures that inhabit this city’s neighborhoods and workplaces, it is rarely understood as a particularly international place, and remains among the most racially bifurcated cities in the American Northeast.

Art, literature, or music from other lands are only offered in rare opportunities connected to the city’s major institutions of prestige – area-focused university departments, special wings at major galleries, and concert halls that typically present classical or avant-garde music.

But look a little below the surface and you’ll see a near-utopian mix of artists and organizations dedicated to sharing the cultural wealth of other worlds. To these organizations, the act of celebrating the uniqueness of ethnolinguistic regions of the world means making those regions relevant to others. They convey the nuance of places like Morocco, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey by showing just how accessible they are.

Few organizations do this as well as Al-Bustan Seeds of Culture, whose Arab Music Concert Series brings celebrated instrumentalists and performers of many traditions to the Trinity Center for Urban Life for moving and educational performances every month. Al-Bustan’s Music Program, of which the Concert Series is a part, is but one crucial component of an all-encompassing organization dedicated to celebrating all aspects of Arab culture.

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