Earlier this month, Lake Effect featured a story on the Concert for Peace put on by the Jewish Community Center that united violin and oud player Yair Dalal with guitar singer and player Mira Awad.
Born in Israel to Jewish parents who immigrated from Iraq, Dalal grew up hearing Arabic and Hebrew and listening to Arabic music. For his concerts in the United States, he connected with Awad, an Israeli actress, songwriter, musician and Dalal’s former student. Awad is part Palestinian, part Bulgarian, who grew up in the Galilee and now lives in Tel Aviv.
Dalal acknowledges a rich history of Jewish musicians in Iraq, a tradition from which he draws. “Actually, almost 90 percent of the musicians in Iraq were Jews, even more. And some of them were very, very famous, like the Kuwaiti Brothers,” says Dalal. “They composed hundreds of songs, in the first half of the twentieth century, that [are] considered to be the folk songs of the Iraqi people, until today. And they came to Israel, and, at once, they lost all their audience, all their glory, all their work.”
Arabic music ultimately united different groups within Israel, Dalal says. These musicians “didn’t give up. They had their own club in the south part of Tel Aviv. And people used to come, every Friday and Saturday. Arabs from Yaffo used to come. So, they had an Israeli audience that was bringing Jews and Arabs together because they played Arabic music,” he adds.
Dalal notes that while his family struggled, they supported him from the beginning of his musical journey when he first started on the violin as a child. He wanted to be a guitar player, but the guitar didn’t come easy to him. He says that ultimately propelling him to find the oud.
He likes the oud “because it’s a melodic instrument. And it’s fretless, like the violin. And the neck is short. It’s not like this long neck of the acoustic guitar…that you have to open your fingers.”
Dalal’s oud playing incorporates different scales than the traditional Western scales and uses taqsim, the type of improvisation used in Arabic instrumental music. Taqsim comes from the word meaning “to divide,” in Arabic, explains Dalal. In music, the taqsim “divides a sentence,” and progresses step by step to create a musical story.
“You go with your heart and with your mind,” Dalal describes. “You follow the scale that you choose and try to make up a melody in a moment.”
Known for his musical collaborations, Dalal explains that a lot of research goes into his partnerships. “You have to listen a lot, to listen more than to play.”
Dalal was particularly excited about his collaboration with Awad, who he describes as, “a special voice in the Middle East. Not only by singing or being a musician. She is very special [because of] her mind, her spirit, her ideology, her thought, political ways and social ways. She expresses what she feels very straight, very direct. And she is a very good musician, too.”
Dalal has been acting to promote peace and understanding in Israel, whether it is through collaborations with Arab musicians or conducting a peace choir composed of Jewish and Arab girls. In his music, he seeks to send a direct message. “Even when I play, without anything around it, the message is very clear.”