Embassy Series Brings Iraqi Music to D.C. Audiences

The sounds of the great Western composers, such as Mozart, Beethoven and Bach, performed by internationally acclaimed musicians. The food, the socializing and networking, the kibitzing, the receptions at embassies, ambassadorial residences and international cultural centers. They're all perfectly good reasons to check out the Embassy Series, Washington's unique musical series.

But Embassy Series founder Jerome Barry had something additional in mind when he began and developed the series. It's called cultural diplomacy by way of musical diplomacy, a vision which has allowed him to enlarge the series to embrace a truly international vista.

The Iraqi Cultural Center at 1630 Connecticut Ave., N.W., in Dupont Circle provides an ideal setting and example for conducting that sort of cultural diplomacy Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. when the Two Rivers Eastern Ensemble, a six-piece group of Middle Eastern and Western artists combine their talents to produce an evening of jazz fused with Maqam, a 400-year-old genre of Arab music which originated in ancient Iraq. The Two Rivers Eastern Ensemble will perform using both folkloric (the santour) and modern (the trumpet) instruments, singing in Arabic, and dressed in traditional ethnic outfits.

“Many instruments such as al-oud, a-santur and the tambourine were invented in ancient Mesopotamia,” said Jabir Habeb, Ambassador of the Republic of Iraq to the United States. “The Sumerians were the first to compose the musical system. This ancient music was shared by many ethnic groups who lived in this region including Arabs, Assyrians, Kurds, Armenians and Turks. The Maqams were considered by many to be the foundation of Eastern music."

"These unique artists are meant to emphasize Iraq's music , history and cultural influence,” Barry said. The artists are unique to the American scene while many are of Iraqi origin. In terms of the Embassy Series, "this is what we mean when we talk about uniting people through musical diplomacy," Barry said. "We provide a forum--through concerts--that combines music with information about a country's culture and history."

In 2010, with the long, grinding effects of the war in Iraq still being felt by both nations, the first such concert at the Iraqi Cultural Center provided an electric evening of different cultures meeting--and often whistling with approval--on a musical playing field. Audiences used to the rapt listening atmosphere of classical music concerts also provided by the Embassy Series soon joined in the more participatory atmosphere of the concert of Iraq music using ancient musical instruments which created rhythmic, soulful sounds and songs.

In its 18-year history, the Embassy Series has performed in more than 60 embassies, residences, chanceries, diplomatic chanceries and cultural institutions, opening up the world of countries and cultures not encountered on such an intimate level. The series was the first to perform at the newly opened embassies of many former Soviet-bloc, Eastern European countries in the 1990s, and performed at the Cuban Interests Section, the Vietnamese Embassy and the opening of the new (and huge) Chinese Embassy in 2010.

Tickets are $80, which includes a post-concert reception. For more information, visit www.embassyseries.org.

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Wed, 23 Apr 2014 09:36:26 -0400

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