Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, May-June 2009, page 62

Music & Arts

Karima Skalli Wins Hearts of MESTO Audience

  • Moroccan singer Karima Skalli at MESTO’s Feb. 21 concert at UCLA’s Schoenberg Hall (Photo S. Twair).

NO MATTER the slowing economy and recession blues, when word spread of Dr. Nabil Azzam’s Feb. 21 concert at UCLA, more than 500 lovers of Arab classical music turned up at Schoenberg Hall to hear the Multi Ethnic Star Orchestra (MESTO).

The UCLA performance held special significance to Maestro Azzam, for it is this university that granted him a Ph.D. in music in 1990. Since organizing MESTO, the Nazareth-born conductor and composer has performed with his 40-piece orchestra in Egypt, Jordan and many U.S. cities.

Soloists for the evening were flutist Laura Hallady and Moroccan singer Karima Skalli.

Continuing the orchestra’s multi-ethnic tradition, a Taiwanese folk tune, “Kao Shan Chi’ing,” rearranged by Azzam, featured an oud solo by Fahd Shaaban. Halladay, who is prominent in Hollywood recording circles, performed “Celtic Fantasia for Seven Flutes.”

The audience quickly warmed to Skalli in her debut U.S. performance with MESTO. The statuesque singer began singing at age 9 in her native city of Fez, Morocco. She was trained classically in Arab maqamat and Sufi chants, and specializes in the songs of the Syrian Druze Princess Asmahan and Umm Kulthum.

She sang two Asmahan songs, “Ya Habibi Ta’ala” and “Imta ha-Ti’raf” to the delight of rapturous concertgoers. But with the initial strains of Umm Kultum’s “Inta Umri,” the audience called out for Maestro Azzam to repeat the introduction. Then, they called on him to repeat it again. “This is better than the original, I can’t believe I am hearing this,” shouted one man.

Skalli was so touched by the enthusiasm of her audience, she whispered to the conductor she wanted to sing a special song of appreciation. Maestro Azzam asked the orchestra to perform a “drone on A” and the guest soloist improvised a Sufi mawwal.

Pat McDonnell Twair

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