Listen to the cry of the reed flute
Listen to its song of separation:
Ever since I was cut from the reed bed
I have made this crying sound
and made men and women weep with me
Early in his career as a jazz musician, Eliyahu Sills heard a recording of the Turkish ney, a reed flute that followers of Rumi have called “the voice of the human soul.”
“When I heard that Turkish ney player for the first time on that recording, it just kind of blew me away,” Sills said, speaking to Berkeley Patch in his West Berkeley home, surrounded by flutes from the Middle East and North India, a collection of ouds, and a stand-up bass. He described what he had heard at the time as “powerful and potent, spiritually charged music.”
Sills’ group, Eliyahu and the Qadim Ensemble, will perform Saturday, June 4, at the 8th annual Berkeley World Music Festival on Telegraph Avenue. The ensemble, which plays a mix of Arabic, Jewish, Turkish Sufi, Hebrew-Yemenite, Armenian, Ladino and Moroccan music, is just one of 14 world music groups that will be showcased from noon until 9 p.m. at various venues along Telegraph Avenue and at People’s Park. (See http://www.berkeleyworldmusic.org/ for the complete schedule.)
The ensemble is called Qadim, which is a word both in Arabic and Hebrew that means “ancient” and “that which will come.” The meaning shared in both languages reflects the commonality in the music and spiritual heritage of the region, Sills said, explaining, “Musically, there's not so much difference between a Jewish song from Morocco and a song that’s sung by a Muslim from Morocco.”
Asked if the message is political, Sills said it is, in a sense, though the musicians don’t talk about specific issues. “What we’re trying to convey is how much is shared in common among people of the Middle East,” he said. “That in itself is political. What the music will do is remind people of the shared humanity that we all have. Jews and Arabs hear each other’s music, we find how much we share. It’s a great way to build bridges of understanding.”
Sills started his career playing stand-up bass in the traditional American jazz mode. After graduating from high school in Boston, he studied at the New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music in New York, while playing in jazz clubs. He went on to discover Greek, then Turkish music and has studied in Turkey, Morocco and Israel. He continues his studies of the bansouri, the North Indian bamboo flute, in the Bay Area with G.S. Sachdev, whom he calls one of the preeminent bansouri masters of the world.
The ensemble includes Sills’ wife, Rachel Valfer Sills on vocals and the oud, Faisal Zedan on Arabic percussion and Gari Hegedus on the baglama saz, a string instrument from Turkey that Sills says is strummed like a lute.
Sills said there aren’t a lot of venues for the ensemble’s music he describes as “devotional.” “If we were playing what people call Middle Eastern cabaret music – more for belly dancers and partying – then there would be lots of venues,” he said.
They generally play concerts, often in churches, synagogues, Sufi centers and universities. At the festival Saturday, Sills said the group will be playing upbeat, celebratory music. He said he’s “looking forward to sharing music with new people” and hearing the other bands.
The ensemble will be playing at at 4:30 p.m. (See http://www.eliyahumusic.com/)
Dance, Crafts and Chalk Art
Gianna Ranuzzi has been putting together the music festival since its inception eight years ago. She said her goal is growing the festival so that, one day, Berkeley will be known for world music, just as New Orleans is known for jazz.
The festival kicks off at noon at , better known as “The Med,” with the San Francisco Balalaika Ensemble playing Russian music.
The dancing starts over at People’s Park at 1 p.m., with an “all girl” band, the Druid Sisters Tree Party, that entertains with Celtic jigs and “hypnotic didgeridoo.”
There will be music from Asia, Latin America and Europe, plus belly dancing, face painting and a chance to create chalk art.
This year, there will be two venues for crafts, with crafts from local artisans as well as from Africa and Latin America. An origami booth will raise funds for relief to Japanese earthquake survivors.
“We’ll be celebrating who we are, a colorful and eclectic Bay Area,” Ranuzzi said. “You’ll come for the bands you like and you’ll find new ones.”