Art Alert: Lebanese musician Rima Khcheich to perform at Bibliotheca Alexandrina Int'l Summer Festival

Ahram Online , Friday 5 Aug 2016

Khcheich last performed in Cairo during the 7th annual Cairo Jazz Festival in October 2015

Rima Khcheich
Lebanese musician Rima Khcheich (Photo: Fragment from promotional material, courtesy of BA Arts Centre)

Lebanese musician Rima Khcheich is set to hold a concert on 26 August at the Bibliotheca Alexandrina’s Open Air Theatre as part of the ongoing 14th annual International Summer Festival.

An inimitable voice, Khcheich has secured a huge fan base in the Arab world with her brilliant amalgamation of turath (Arabic heritage) and western music, including jazz melodies. Besides revisiting the Arab music library, Khcheich has also performed new compositions.

Born in 1974 in the village of Al-Khiam, in south Lebanon, Khcheich grew up in a home “where music was associated with passion,” she told Ahram Online in an interview conducted in October 2015.

“My parents were of great support. My father who was a qanun player encouraged me and took me to the [Layali Lubnan (Nights of Lebanon)] TV talents show, and then to the children’s choir led by Salim Sahab, which I joined at the age of nine.”

Khcheich’s upbringing in traditional Arabic music, during which she became acquainted with the music of Oum Kalthoum, Mohamed Abdel-Wahab, Wadie El-Safi, Zakariyya Ahmed and Mohamed Fawzy, led her to join the Beirut Oriental Troupe for Arabic Music, also with Sahab, where she performed as a soloist for 17 years.

In parallel to her budding music career, Khcheich joined the Lebanese National Higher Conservatory of Music where she acquired a diploma in oriental singing.

After almost two decades of performing classical muwashahat -- a genre of classical Arabic music which came to light in al-Andalus-now Southern Spain -- Khcheich embarked on a new adventure more than a decade ago, this time presenting a reintroduction of this classical music form aided by modern Western arrangements.

This reintroduction occurred in the form of a collaboration with the Dutch jazz ensamble Yuri Honing Trio. Since 2001, Khcheich and the trio have presented a powerful amalgamation of muwashahat and western jazz, as well as other contemporary Arabic songs composed by Khcheich.

Khcheich’s project would be introduced in her first album entitled The Orient Express, named after a Dutch-Lebanese-Iraqi band that attempted to amalgamate between traditional Arabic music and jazz.

The renegotiations of muwashahat continued in Khcheich’s debut solo album Yalalalli and later on Falak, both of which embraced an array of classical Arabic songs and muwashahat performed alongside western instruments as well as new compositions.

In her most recent music project, Hawa, Khcheich took her experimentation with muwashahat a step further.  

"The project encompasses my new vision of the muwashahat I had began singing at the age of eight. In a way, I tried to add my personal touch to this musical genre in Hawa,” she told Ahram Online.

The album comprises 10 muwashahat and one dawr -- an established composition that gives space for improvisation -- most of which have no known composer or lyricist.

“In past projects, and while recording with the Dutch musicians, I’d always choose the muwashahat that were flexible enough to be played with the saxophone, drums, and other western instruments,” Khcheich said.

In Hawa, which was recorded live in a studio, Khcheich introduced a clarinet, "because this instrument can play all Arab maqamat [plural of maqam; Arabic music scale, modal structure], as well as the riq.”

Khcheich also never shies away from opportunities to celebrate some of Arabic music’s legendary artists, evidenced by her tribute album to late Lebanese singer and actress Sabah. The album, titled Min Sihr Oyounak, itself the name of one of Sabah’s songs, includes Khcheich’s loyal interpretations of 11 of Sabah's biggest hits, including Habibit Ommaha, Rayha Abil Habibi and Rouh ala Mahlak amongst others.  

For the past 12 years, Khcheich has been teaching classical Arabic singing and muwashahat to students at the Lebanese National Higher Conservatory of Music. She currently teaches Arabic music at the Lebanese American University and the American University of Beirut.

Khcheich’s last performance in Cairo was part of the 7th annual Cairo Jazz Festival in October 2015.

This year’s edition of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina International Summer Festival opened on 29 July with a concert by Lebanese musician and oud master Marcel Khalife, and will bring over 40 cultural events, ranging from music and theatre to film and traditional dance to the Mediterranean city. 

Friday 26 August, 8.30pm
Bibliotheca Alexandrina, Open Air Theatre, Alexandria

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