On October 23rd I got to watch as Al-Bustan hosted a virtual concert titled “The Songs We Carry: Middle Eastern and Venezuelan Memories and Melodies” featuring musicians Miriam Elhajli and Hafez Kotain. For those that do not know, Miriam Elhajli is a Venezuelan-Moroccan-American composer and vocalist whose work is influenced by American Folk, modern Jazz, and contemporary classical music. She was recently a featured artist in Al-Bustan’s Spring 2021 gallery exhibit ARTist Reframed by Tamara Hijazi. Hafez Kotain is a long time regular Al-Bustan performer and an accomplished master percussionist in his own right with fluency in both Arab and Latin Rhythms. I got to meet Hafez while helping with Al-Bustan’s After School Arab Arts program for underserved Philadelphia school students where he teaches a drumming class weekly.
The performance, which was filmed and edited by Dave Tavani, was really well shot, highlighting the emotions and focus of both musicians as they played. Miriam’s beautiful singing was accompanied by radiant melodies from her guitar and masterful percussion rhythms from Hafez. The first thing I noticed as they performed was the importance of rhythm and how much it drove each and every song. Together Miriam and Hafez played a number of stunning songs ranging from those written and composed by Miriam herself, such as “Gold and God” (one of my personal favorites), to others such as “Motivos” by Italo Pizzolante. It was interesting to see the different styles expressed when Miriam performed Spanish or Arabic songs. I also really enjoyed watching Hafez with his precise percussion and attention not just to the rhythm but to the emotions of the music. He was a partner with Miriam in the songs following and adapting to wherever Miriam led them.
Overall, the performance was filled with beauty, emotion, and great musicianship. Not to mention, the film production, camera, and editing by Dave Tavani and audio work by Clark Connor and Weston Sound. As an artist and film major myself, currently working at Al-Bustan for my Drexel University CO-OP, I especially appreciated the skill that went into the performance’s presentation and the care with which Al-Bustan conveys the art and culture of the Arab world.