Reading & Performance: An Evening of Arabic Poetry and Music: Trajectories of Modernity and Tradition

Wed, December 8, 2010 7:00 pm at Alwan for the Arts

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Introduction and Discussion with Professor Muhsin al-Musawi; musical accompanist Amir ElSaffar, poetry readings in Arabic by Taoufiq Ben Amor and English by Tala Hadid

Free and Open to the Public

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Since the late 1940s, Arabic poetry has spoken for an Arab conscience, as much as it has debated positions and ideologies, nationally and worldwide. This book tackles issues of modernity and tradition in Arabic poetry as manifested in poetic texts and criticism by poets as participants in transformation and change. It studies the poetic in its complexity, relating to issues of selfhood, individuality, community, religion, ideology, nation, class and gender.

Al-Musawi also explores in context issues that have been cursorily noticed or neglected, like Shi’i poetics, Sufism, women’s poetry, and expressions of exilic consciousness. Arabic Poetry employs current literary theory and provides comprehensive coverage of modern and post-modern poetry from the 1950s onwards, making it essential reading for those with interests in Arabic culture and literature and Middle East studies.


Professor Muhsin al-Musaw
i is a literary critic and a scholar of classical and modern Arabic literature and comparative cultural studies. He taught for over two decades at universities in the Arab world before moving to Columbia University. He is the author of twenty-eight books (including four novels) and over sixty scholarly articles. He has been the editor of the Journal of Arabic Literature since 2000.

Professor al-Musawi's teaching and research interests span several periods and genres. His books include: Scheherazade in England (1981); The Society of One Thousand and One Nights (2000); Anglo-Orient: Easterners in Textual Camps (2000); The Postcolonial Arabic Novel: Debating Ambivalence (2003); Arabic Poetry: Trajectories of Modernity and Tradition (2006); Reading Iraq: Culture and Power in Conflict (2006); The Islamic Context of the Thousand and One Nights (Columbia University Press, 2009); and Islam in the Street: The Dynamics of Arabic Literary Production (Rowman & Littlefield, 2009). He is also the editor of and a contributor to Arabic Literary Thresholds: Sites of Rhetorical Turn in Contemporary Scholarship (2009), and wrote the introduction and notes to the Barnes & Noble edition of The Thousand and One Nights, published in 2007. Professor al-Musawi was the recipient of the Owais Award in Literary Criticism in 2002.

Taoufiq Ben Amor
is Gordon Gray Jr. Senior Lecturer at Columbia University specializing in Arabic language and linguistics, language pedagogy, language and identity, Arab music, poetry and Maghrebian Francophone literature, especially by authors who have written in both Arabic and French. His research combines his interests in music, language and identity in the Arab world through the study of lyrics. His most recent paper is entitled “The Making of Tradition: Standardization of the Lyrics of the Tunisian Andalusian Malouf.” He published a textbook on Tunisian Arabic in 1988 and a composition manual in 1990. Other papers he wrote include “States of Mind: Music in Islamic Sufi rituals,” “The Politics of Language and the Formalization of the Iraqi Maqam,” and “Code Switching in Algerian Rai Music.” Prof. Ben Amor is currently working on three projects: The Making of Tradition: Language, Music and Identity in the Arab World; Developing Writing Skills in Arabic (to be published by Routledge in 2011); Sufism in North and West Africa (co-author, a four-volume work to be published by the University Oxford Press in 2013). Professor Ben Amor is also an active musician and music producer.

Amir ElSaffa
r put his career as a jazz trumpeter on hold in 2002 to travel to Iraq and explore the music of his ancestry, the Iraqi maqam. ElSaffar, who was born in the US in 1977 to an Iraqi father and an American mother, was already an accomplished trumpeter, having performed with many esteemed jazz and classical artists and winning several international competitions. He spent several years traveling in Iraq, throughout the Middle East and in Europe, where he encountered masters of the Iraqi maqam, such as Hamid al-Saadi, Baher al-Rajab, and Farida Mohammed Ali and her ensemble, as well as masters of various other Arabic musical styles. From these teachers, Amir learned to sing the maqam and to play the santoor, a 96-string hammered-dulcimer that is native to Iraq, and quickly mastered a significant portion of the maqam repertoire. In 2005, Amir joined forces with his sister, Dena El Saffar, and her husband, Tim Moore, and formed Safaafir, the only ensemble in the US that performs the maqam in its traditional format. Hamid al-Saadi, Amir's teacher, who is one of the leading maqam singers in Iraq, regards Amir as one of the important carriers of this tradition in his generation, and has said "Amir is a great addition to the maqam…he is preserving the true essence of this music."

Tala Hadid made her first short film in 1993 while at Brown University studying Fine Art and Philosophy. In 1995, as she was graduating, she cowrote and directed a feature documentary Sacred Poet on Pier Paolo Pasolini. In 2005 Hadid received her MFA in Film Directing from Columbia, and completed her film, Tes Cheveux Noirs Ihsan. The film was awarded the 2005 Kodak/Cinecolor Prize and in June 2005 received a Student Academy Award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. It has won several prizes (including awards from the Global Film Initiative, the Milos Formangrant and the British Academy of Film and Television Arts). It screened at numerous Film Festivals including the Rotterdam Film Festival 2006 where it was nominated for a Tiger Award. In February of 2006 the film won the Panorama Best short Film Award at the Berlin Film Festival. Hadid’s work has also screened, among other venues, at the MOMA in New York City, the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington D.C, L’Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris, the Seville Biennale in Spain, Oxford University, and the Photographer’s Gallery in London. Hadid is a fellow of the Sundance Institute feature film program and was invited to the writers and directors lab 2009 with her feature film project The Narrow Frame of Midnight.

Last updated: 2010-11-27 02:37:17

Muhsin Al-Musawi
Muhsin Al-Musawi
Taoufiq Ben Amor
Taoufiq Ben Amor
Amir Elsaffar
Amir Elsaffar

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