Musical Performance: Alwan Poetics: A Series of Verse and Music- Abul ʿAla Al-Maʿari

Fri, September 13, 2013 8:00 pm at Alwan for the Arts

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A salon discussion led by Mohamed Alwan on Abul 'Ala Al-Ma'arri with music by the Alwan Ensemble, celebrating the classical poetry of Al-Ma'aari, Al-Hallaj, Abu Nawas and the Maqam

Alwan Poetics: Abul ʿAla Al-Maʿarri

هذا جناه أبي عليَّ وما جنيت على أحد

This life is what the father has bequeathed to me
Yet life is what I refuse to inflict on anyone

Arabic literature, like most literature, sprung into existence with an outburst of poetry, but, unlike many others, its poetry seems to have issued forth full-grown. It is said that when a poem was composed, people from different regions of Arabia would flock and send good wishes to the families of the poet. Arab culture is an environment wherein political debates took place in poetry. Abul ʿAla Al-Maʿarri stands high as a towering figure in this tradition. An acerbic rationalist, indignant about oppressive social structures, Al-Maʿarri's literary and philosophical output is characterized by a great deal of pessimism and a macabre fascination with loss and death. As the above lines highlight, Al Ma'arri refused adherence to family, lineage or nation. He embraced even his own finality.

In these dire times, where the world that is heir to Al Ma'arri is in cinders, epitomized by the decapitation of his statue in his hometown, we seek respite in his philosophical stance of coming to grips with being from nothingness, and the dark night that has befallen the people of the Arab world.

"Do not suppose the statements of the prophets to be true; they are all fabrications. Men lived comfortably till they came and spoiled life. The sacred books are only such a set of idle tales as any age could have and indeeed did actually produce" Abul 'Ala Al-Ma'arri

Discussant, Mohamed Alwan was born in Baghdad. He received his PhD in Arabic literature from the University of Indiana and taught at Georgetown, Harvard, and Tufts, after which he recently retired. His latest publication is "Ancient Arab Beliefs" (2010). He is now working on a book on pre-Islamic mythologies.

The Alwan Arab Music Ensemble delivers a joyful and transporting feast of well-loved popular songs from the greater Arab World, built around mesmerizing textures of rhythmic and improvisational intensity.

These masters of a broad range of Arab musical idioms display their seasoned sensibilities and impressive technique across a diverse array of musical selections, evoking ambiances of Cairo, Baghdad, al-Quds and Aleppo, but as importantly that of contemporary New York.

Alwan Ensemble:

George Ziadeh,oud, vocals
Johnny Farraj,riqq, vocals
Zafer Tawil
, qanun, violin, vocals
Amir ElSaffar,santur, vocals

Alwan Poetics: Abul ʿAla Al-Maʿari Salon/Concert

Date/Time: Friday, September 13, 8pm

Tickets: $20 General Admission (*buy now) and $15 for students, members and seniors (*buy now).

Tickets available at the door and online (a small online fee is applied, use printout for ticket)

Doors open at 7:30 pm

Abul 'Ala Al-Ma'arri

Abul ʿAla Al-Maʿarri ( أبو العلاء المعري Abū al-ʿAlāʾ al-Maʿarrī, b.973-d.1058) was born in Maʿarra (now Ma'arat al-Nu'man), south of Aleppo, Syria. His paternal great-great-grandfather had been the city's first judge. Some members of the Bani Sulaimān (Al-Ma'arri's family) had also been acclaimed poets. He lost his eyesight at the age of four due to smallpox. He started his career as a poet at an early age, about 11 or 12 years old, and was educated at first in Maʿarra and Aleppo, and later in Antioch and other Syrian cities. Among his teachers in Aleppo were companions from the circle of Ibn Khalawayh, a grammarian and Islamic scholar who died in 980, when Al-Maʿarri was still a child. Al-Maʿarri nevertheless laments the loss of Ibn Ḵh̲ālawayh in his magnum opus Risālat al-Ghufrān or "Epistle of Forgiveness". He spent eighteen months in Baghdad, where he was well received in the literary salons of the time. He returned to his native town of Maʿarra in about 1010 AD and remained there for the rest of his life, attracting students and seekers of knowledge. Despite the fact that he was renowned during his lifetime, he opted for an ascetic lifestyle, refusing to sell his poems, and lived in relative seclusion, observing a strict vegetarian diet.

Among his major works are "The Tinder Spark" (Saqṭ al-Zand; سقط الزند). which established his reputation as a poet. One of his most original works is "Unnecessary Necessity" (Luzūm Mā Lam Yalzam لزوم ما لا يلزم أو اللزوميات ), which is how Al-Ma’arri saw being and existence. In his most famous "The Epistle of Forgiveness" (Risālat al-Ghufrān رسالة الغفران), the poet creates an Elysian field wherein he negotiates his aesthetic references and problematizes his intellectual heritage.


Alwan's music program is made possible, in part, with public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in Partnership with the City Council.

Last updated: 2014-01-06 14:30:26

Abul 'Ala Al-Maari
Abul 'Ala Al-Maari

Alwan for the Arts

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(between Broad St. and Broadway)
New York, NY 10004
(646) 732-3261

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