Wednesday, June 6, 2007


Four singers sit behind their microphones while a circle of men sit cross-legged in front. On each side, a row of four girlish youths in funny tall hats sit also. The crowd hushes and one singer begins alone, soon accompanied by chanting from the sitting men, then by the call to prayer as nearby minarets join the chorus. The group finds a rhythm and sways to the name of God, dipping and bowing in unison as the words repeat again and again. The circle rises and begins to rotate as the men sidestep to their devotions, a first turn to begin the process.

After a long while, the boys rise and begin to turn ever so slowly, arms crossed over their chests and long skirts caught in the strong breeze. One by one, they relax, arms opening down, then floating lazily up over their heads and finally draped up, wrists gently limp. They turn faster, heads tilted, eyes seemingly closed, skirts billowing but never quite at full whirl. The central circle has closed in and chants louder, faster, more urgently. They are now clustered tightly and swaying in time.

Abruptly, they return to a calmer pace and work their way back into an organized circle, then settle cross-legged once again. Some dervishes pause and also sit, returning to spin seemingly at random. A flute stands out, and I realize I've completely lost track of time. The spell seems broken, for now I listen but it seems familiar rather than exotic, though the still-turning dervishes maintain their hold on my imagination.

Yesterday over lunch I tell classmates about the concert, still cheerful at the experience. Sarah looks at me and says not unkindly, "yeah, but you can see those all the time." Her family is from Egypt, and I get the point - and the wonderful thing about an international festival is that there's something exotic for everyone...tomorrow she's coming to see Andalusian songs, after all.

(This concert was on Monday night - I'm now running a bit behind, but tomorrow should catch up with a review of both the Pakistani qawwals I heard last night and the Arab-Andalusian fusion I'm going to catch tonight).

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