Baharat at Djam NYC

Djam NYC is a weekly world music (actually, middle Eastern music) event at The Engine Room in NYC. It features Baharat, a Brooklyn-based band, and Bellyqueen, a bellydance company.

Baharat is a four-musician band, and their marvelous Arabic music includes tones and rhythms not found in western music. It centers on Mr. Burdi’s oud, a lovely pear-shaped 12-string instrument with ancient origins, like a lute, that epitomizes the dazzling sound of middle Eastern music. Mr. Burdi told me that it’s more difficult to play than the guitar, and it’s certainly worth the effort. Its glittering timbre, although somewhat acerbic compared to a guitar, is hypnotic.

On percussion, Adam Maalouf plays a riq (a sort of tambourine), a cymbal with holes in it that alter its sound, and a frame drum called a droombek. They give the music a wide rhythmic range. Sometimes he hits the wooden edge of the drum with is hand for even more variety.

The violin, of course, is not an authentic middle Eastern instrument, but it has a long history in the modern age of inclusion in middle Eastern music. In Baharat, Ben Sutin plays it, often doubling with the oud - and that terrific doubling is traditional.

Enrique Mancia plays the bass guitar in the group, and its presence is neither authentic nor expected. I asked Mr. Burdi why he includes it, and he answered “I like rock and roll. Eastern music is missing a bass element.”

As a purist, I disagree. One of the mesmerizing things about Eastern music is that it’s weightless - it floats - and that guitar weighs down Baharat like a ton of hummus.

This music is at its best at its transitions of rhythm and tempo. It’s thrilling to hear Baharat suddenly slow down and then speed up again in a new tempo. I don’t deny that part of this music’s attraction is its novelty - but part of the attraction of Western music is its familiarity.

Bellyqueen, the bellydance troupe, is headed by Kaeshi, and her gracefulness is the visual partner to the bewitching music. All the dancers - the bellydancers and the jazz dancers - enhance this entertaining, informal evening.

Steve Capra

July 2019

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