Malek Jandali “Echoes from Ugarit” St John’s Smith Square 5 March


A relevant album cover


This was an interesting evening and ended up being strangely familiar.  As I was plodding swiftly towards SJSS I passed the Archbishop of Canterbury in the street and when I got there I seemed to be the only non-Arab (non-Syrian) in the audience.  So all of the speeches were in English specially for me!  That was hospitable, even by Arab standards.

Anyway, many late-arriving couples arrived late, the women with dyed hair, furs and vertiginous heels and the men looking like burly profiteers.  We watched a video about Malek Jandali, from which I learned that he had been born in Germany, studied music in Syria under Russian professors, and now lived in the United States.  After that, we watched a video clip entitled ‘Piano Dream’, which put me in mind of an airline advertisement.

Then the man himself appeared and played the piano parts from his ‘Echoes from Ugarit’ album.  The music put me in mind of some combination of Lyapunov (general style of piano writing) and Borodin (oriental influences).  But there were also signs of a man who had seem something different, especially in Echoes from Ugarit itself.  He dedicated ‘Yafa’ to the Palestinians (as ever, apparently)  and, on this occasion, to other Arab peoples struggling for freedom–not, however, the Syrians.  In fact, the piece Emessa (old name for Homs) was greeted with such enthusiasm it seemed like everyone had come from there originally.

At the end, the whole hall got to their feet for the compulsory standing ovation, again reinforcing my feeling I was back in Russia…

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