Melding Musical Traditions: A.J. Racy in Philadelphia

Scholar, composer, and musician A.J. Racy proffered so much knowledge and artistry during his visit to Philadelphia in November 2011 but it is the sound of him playing the mijwiz that sticks with me months later. The mijwiz is a wind instrument made of two reeds, each with five or six holes and fitted with smaller tubes that vibrate to produce sound. Playing the mijwiz requires a difficult process called circular breathing wherein the performer produces music continuously while not appearing to be breathing at all.


In many ways Racy’s performance on the mijwiz was a departure from the rest of the concert, which featured a takht ensemble. Traditionally Arab classical music is presented by a takht ensemble comprised of a violin, oud, qanun, nay, riq and vocalist. The enormity and uniqueness of its sound means the mijwiz is typically played as a solo instrument or accompanied by percussion outdoors. While the takht ensemble is the cornerstone of concert hall performances you will more often hear the mijwiz being played at weddings and other celebrations, providing music for the dabkah, a line dance. The inclusion of the mijwiz in the concert demonstrated Racy’s unmatched dedication to studying and playing both folk and classical music while also reinterpreting traditions in his own compositions.

We will upload a video clip from A.J. Racy’s performance in Philadelphia soon. In the meantime check out this video of him playing the mijwiz.

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