Ryan Chartrand

The oud is an Arabic instrument that eventually became the European lute. It’s a short, fretless stringed device used in Arab music, and it will be one of many unfamiliar musical tools on display in the Cal Poly Arab Music Ensemble’s first ever complete performance Saturday at 7 p.m.

Directed by first-year music professor Kenneth Habib, the ensemble will be treating its audience to the exotic sounds of the Middle East on Saturday night in the H.P. Davidson Music Center, room 218.

For his part, Habib has a formal education in Arabic music. As the grandson to Lebanese citizens, he grew up with the sound of the oud, among others, in his ears.

“Just as the years went by I took more of an interest in it,” Habib said in regards to his passion for the sound. “It’s not driven by harmony. It’s a melodic music; it’s not like chords.”

In addition to the oud, the audience will be able to experience the riqq, a tambourine-like instrument; the darabukka, also called the goblet drum; and the stringed buzuq, which shares similarities with the more recognizable guitar in that they both have frets and a long neck.

Those are just some of the traditional musical devices that will be in the show.

The performance itself is put together in a series of suites. Each suite is made up of several musical pieces that all relate to each other; at the end of each suite will be an Arabic folk dance number. Additionally, students will also sing in muwashshah, a classical form of the Arabic language that dates all the way back to the middle ages.

For the students involved in the production of the show, adjustments have been necessary. Habib said only three students have an Arab background, so most had to learn the Arabic vocals with no previous experience speaking the language. Another challenge lies in the differences between Western and Arabic instruments.

“In certain ways there are parallels,” Habib said. But he was also quick to point out that in the Arab music tradition, the scale contains quarter notes, something that most Western music does not count. For example, it’s possible to play E and E flat on a piano, but not possible to play the note E “half-flat.”

“On behalf of the students, they have done a phenomenal job,” Habib said.

The Arab Music Ensemble, which was formed this year when Habib arrived in San Luis Obispo, has played three times prior to Saturday’s show.

In fall and winter quarters, they played a brief recital in conjunction with other branches of the music department.

They also had the opportunity to play the second half of a show the Cal Poly Choir put on earlier this year. But Saturday night will be the first full featured performance from the group.

Enrollment in the group is “completely open” and that no auditions are required of students who want to play with the ensemble in the future.

As for the upcoming performance, Habib said he hopes the audience members enjoy themselves.

“One of the things (I hope people take away from this performance) is a deeper appreciation of this long-standing art music tradition,” he said. “Ahlan wa sahlan.” (That’s “welcome” in Arabic).

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