Arab Christmas – Exploring the early Arab Christian Chants .
Come to experience the atmosphere as Rich Mix venue is gently lit by candles in a very rare opportunity to hear chants from the Aramaic/Syriac and Byzantine traditions, harking back to the time of Queen Zanubia’s reign of Palmyra.
It was in the second century, during the reign of Queen Zanubia, that Christianity reached the ancient Syrian caravan city of Palmyra. Her rule witnessed the emergence of the first church melodies out of the secular Aramaic music of Syria and Iraq.
Coptic Egyptian/German singer Merit Ariane Stephanos and Father Shafiq Abouzayd introduce the audience to this music, in particular to the chanting traditions of the Levantine and Byzantine churches.
The sound world of these chants is rich with quartertones and virtuosic ornamentation. Accompanied by multi-instrumentalist Jon Banks on qanun and santur, this concert illuminates the earliest roots of Christianity and celebrates the diverse musical traditions of the ancient Middle Eastern world.
Performed by Arabic song specialist Merit Ariane Stephanos with Lebanese priest and scholar Abouna Shafiq Abouzayd and multi-instrumentalist Jon Banks on qanun and santur.
– Merit Ariane Stephanos
Half Coptic Egyptian, half German singer and composer. Merit draws on Arabic classical and Western contemporary influences in her music and is passionate about exploring a dialogue between both cultures. In 2012, Merit, supported by a Finzi Trust Scholarship, Merit went on a three month trip to Lebanon to research Arab Christian chants.
– Shafiq Abouzayd
The senior Melkite Greek Catholic priest in Britain, has been a priest at the Maronite Church since 1987. Of joint Lebanese and British nationality, Rev Dr Abouzayd studied Aramaic-Syriac and Arabic at the monastery of the Lebanese Maronite Missionaries in Jounieh and is currently the director for the Aram Centre for Syro Mespotoamian Studies at Oxford University.
– Jon Banks
A performer with an international profile, specialising in early and Oriental string instruments. He has toured, broadcast and recorded with groups including The Dufay Collective, The Burning Bush, Joglaresa, the Jocelyn Pook Ensemble and Iranian ensembles with Fariborz Kiani and Davod Azad. He is a regular performer and musical director at the Globe and lectures on Middle Eastern music at Anglia Ruskin University.
– Najib Coutya
Singer and oud player was born in Tripoli, Lebanon, where he lived until moving to London in 1991. He had a very musical upbringing as his father was a choirmaster and singer of Byzantine and Arabic Church music, renowned across the Middle East. From a young age Najib was involved in his father’s musical traditions and singing regularly, and by the age of 11 he was leading a choir.
The Byzantine/Arabic music that Najib and his father practise is an oral tradition, consisting of a system of about 20 complex modes, full of quarter-tones, drawing from the Arabic maqam and Greek Byzantine conventions. Najib continues this today, with his own choir based at the Antiochian Greek Orthodox church, St George Cathedral, who have sung together for 18 years. There are only 9 members, which he says allows them more artistic freedom and room for improvisation than the larger choirs. They sing in Arabic, and their repertoire includes pieces traceable to as early as the 3rd century CE, but their main source comes from music sung in the churches of Constantinople in the 18th and 19th centuries; at the time a melting-pot of Turkish, Arabic and Greek cultures.
Najib is the co-founder of Ichos Ensemble. This group has a Turkish violinist, a Greek singer, and Najib, who plays the oud and sings. They play a mixture of Turkish and Greek songs, Greek rebetiko music and Arabic and Ottoman classical music. He also collaborates with Egyptian classical musicians in the maqam tradition, often playing material by legendary Egyptian singer Umm Kulthumm. Other music he performs includes muashshahat, Arabic formal poetry, and dor, colloquial Arabic poetry, both of which include extensive vocal and instrumental vocal improvisation, using the aforementioned modes.
Najib places equal importance on both continuing these traditions and innovating within them; by playing them correctly and authentically, but using new improvisations to keep them alive.
– Christelle Madani
Born in Lebanon, in a family of various musical talents, Christelle has been exposed to both western and oriental music including Byzantine and Arabic. With a soprano type of voice, she can sing both styles and in 3 different languages. She was a member of Saint Nicolas choir in Beirut since the age of 15 and she is currently a soloist at the Arabic Antiochian Orthodox Church in London as well as singing in London with various contemporary artists.