To describe traditional Palestinian music for the unfamiliar, musician and educator Ramzi Aburedwan likes to emphasize the communal aspect.
“Palestinian music is love and communication to the audience,” said Aburedwan in a phone interview. “It also includes a few unique instruments, like the oud and bouzouki.”
Aburedwan leads the Dal’Ouna Ensemble, an Arabic-French group who will bring their blend of traditional Palestinian classical and folk to the First Congregational Church of Old Lyme on Friday night. Aburedwan spent the bulk of his early life in a Ramallah refugee camp, where he learned to play the viola. Later, he began instruction at a music school in France, where he met several other musicians who’d later join the Dal’Ouna Ensemble.
Dal’Ouna is Aburedwan on viola and bouzouki, percussionist Tareq Rantisi, oud player Ziad Ben Youssef, and accordionist Edwin Buger. Ouds may include up to 12 strings and are often played in a manner reminiscent of guitars. The bouzouki is similar to the oud, though it has paired strings of six to eight in total and a sharper sound. Western audiences may be most familiar with the bouzaki through its heavy usage in Irish folk music.
In addition to instrumentalists, the Dal’Ouna Ensemble includes Lebanese singer Abeer Nehme, who breathes life into evocative, vocal-heavy compositions like “Baadek ala Bali” and “Billadi Askara.” Elsewhere, on “Asfour,” an undercurrent of sadness mingles with joyous energies and melodies.
“The voice is the most beautiful instrument,” said Aburedwan. “One composition we play frequently reflects my amazement in visiting France for the first time.”
However, the Dal’Ouna Ensemble differs from European classical music in one dynamic way.
“Our set lists are different every night,” said Aburedwan, who values jazz’s improvisational spirit. “The songs we play are tailored for the current audience, to capture the ensemble’s experiences of drifting from place to place.”
Beyond Dal’Ouna Ensemble, Aburedwan is also a music teacher who is responsible for the creation of eight schools in Palestine.
“Ultimately, I hope more people from the United States will be interested in coming over to Palestine to learn more about our music, and we can teach the other,” said Aburedwan. “It’s the best kind of musical exchange.”
Journalist Sandy Tolan opens Dal’Ouna Ensemble’s performance with a reading from his book, “Children of the Stone: The Power of Music In A Hard Land.” In an NPR piece from last year, Tolan discusses Aburedwan’s story of growing up in a refugee camp and his ensuing, complex musical journey. Ten years after Aburedwan and Tolan originally met, when Aburedwan was only 18, the two had an unlikely encounter. They lost touch shortly after Tolan originally profiled Aburedwan in a 1998 NPR story.
“It was a totally coincidental meeting at a restaurant in Palestine and Sandy actually didn’t recognize me at first,” said Aburedwan. “I approached him and that’s basically how these performances came into being.”
First Congregational Church is located at the corner of Lyme and Ferry streets in Old Lyme. The show begins at 7 p.m. Tickets are $10 each, though students and people under 21 are free.