Time out New York

30/09 -07/10 1999

STATI UNITI (USA)

 

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Using a dizzying array of traditional instruments [...] Al Qantarah draws on two bodies of music [...] to re-create the music heard in the court of Emperor Frederick II

The daf, a frame drum played with serious legerdemain by Fabio Accurso

 

 

Al Qantarah

 

Al Qantarah is both a Sicilian quintet and a river in eastern Sicily whose name means "bridge" in Arabic. The quintet plays music of medieval Sicily. As you might expect from an island that had been influenced by so many different cultures (European, Middle Eastern, North African), the Sicily of the Middle Ages produced music that reflects the traditions of the island itself and all that passed through it.

Using a dizzying array of traditional instruments, many of which have origins in ancient Persia, Al Qantarah draws on two bodies of music, the "Tropari of Catania" of the 12th cen­tury and the "Body of Sicilian Popular Music," compiled 100 years ago by musicologist Alberto Favara, to re-create the music heard in the court of Emperor Frederick II (who ruled an independent Sicily from 1296 to 1337). The music can be hypnotically primitive and, like a lot of traditional music with Asian or Arabic roots, somewhat psychedelic in nature. A beaten zarb (a goblet drum with great tonal range), set against a slew of droning lutes with differing numbers of strings (oud has five, setar four, dotar two) and polyphonous chanted vocals, sounds like Amon Duul having a hoote-nanny. But at other times, too many influences at once result in a medieval, multiculti glop. Let's hope, in this live setting, the expert musicians allow one another room for solos on mouth harp, symphonia (an ancient-looking hurdy-gurdy) and even the daf, a frame drum played with serious legerdemain by Fabio Accurso. Some members of the group are also musicologists, so expect full explanations of the roots of each piece. You can't tell your medieval empires without a scorecard, you know.

Mike Wolf