The eagerly anticipated, ‘Ahmed Alshaiba Band’ was Live in Concert at the Al Bustan Palace, a Ritz-Carlton Hotel’s ‘Oman Auditorium’ last Friday. The slight delay in starting time was softened by complementary snacks for Early Birds in the foyer. At 7.55pm House Lights went down in the chilled hall without housekeeping requests to turn off mobile phones, and guests were given a warm, bilingual welcome from Eventkum Chairman, HH Faisal al Turki al Said.
Twenty-nine-year-old Ahmed al Shaiba was born and raised in Yemen, a self-taught Oud player who had his first performance in Egypt in 2007. He moved to the US in 2012 performing covers, including Michael Jackson’s, ‘Smooth Criminal’ and Ed Sheeran’s ‘Perfect’. He now has 600,000 followers on YouTube – and small wonder, for this talented young musician has an eclectic taste in genres and performance styles.
The opening number dived straight into a ‘Rock Band with Oud’ sound, featuring the brilliant technique of pianist Tareq Yamani’s jazz improvisation on Concert Grand. Ahmed’s Oud solo was full of syncopation on his Turkish-made instrument, with Shanier Blumenkranz on Bass guitar. It was an amazing beginning and totally unexpected from a traditional Arabic line-up.
“Arabian Night” was a jazz-funk composition, introducing whizz-kid Qanoon player Tamer Pinarbasi with Oud-Qanoon duos in a chromatic modal scale. Tamer played an extended syncopated funky solo with Bass and Drums, curiously with Indian classical Tihai cadences to conclude each section.
There was a change of mood as Phillip Meyer moved in front of the stage to play the Persian Daf, a tambour or Bodhràn-like percussion. While Ahmed played the opening Oud solo, his image was projected onto a huge screen behind – helpful for those seated at the back. A fast, Asturias-like virtuoso passage was followed by Daf and Qanoon in a traditional Arabic rhythm as stars and coloured baubles whirled on the screen behind. A clever close-up of the Qanoon player’s finger work appeared next, with surprisingly deep Daf tones.
“Malahide”, composed after Ahmed was refused permission to visit Ireland, was a brilliant Irish Jig, reminiscent of ‘Morrison’s Jig’, played between Oud and Qanoon as Piano, Bass and Drums returned to add a Rock backing, including some foxy rhythms in the bridge. The Jig-time returned with a lovely bass riff from Blumenkranz.
The traditional trio front of stage performed an Arabic ballad with Oud solos, full of passion from Ahmed, and impressive rim shots, sliding effects and finger patterns from Philip Mayer on Daf.
‘Dream Maker’ theme from Sanie al Ahlam’s film brought everyone back on stage (without Tamer). It was a gentle Waltz number, with Oud and Piano playing parallel harmonies, and subtle brush drumming. An even slower middle section for Piano, Bass and Oud had an imperceptible pulse, then back to Waltz-time and some fine melodic piano playing from Tareq. German-born Shanier Blumenkranz had the chance to shine in the following fast Renaissance Pastiche, built over a descending bass line, with a high melodic bass guitar solo.
Another surprise was in store when yet another musician joined the ensemble on stage; Selaedin Mamudoski on Clarinet. “In their Presence, In their Absence”, opened with a textured piano solo from Tareq, gradually adding Oud, Bass and Drums and then the Clarinet in an evocative and atmospheric slow, jazz-rock, concluding with an effective Oud tremolo. The famous folk ballad inspired by Saudia called, “Longing” was a haunting traditional piece for the quartet, opening with a lengthy Oud solo, joined by interesting ornamentation from the Qanoon on an accelerating repeating motif, and at last a loudly-miked clarinet solo in Middle-Eastern style over unusual chordal harmonies.
The last piece of the night, “Let her Dance” was a return to Jig-time for the whole Rock outfit, as Ahmed gave thanks to HH Faisal Turki al Said and introduced the young musicians sharing the stage. Phillip Mayer on drums punctuated the fast Irish jazz-rock while the audience inevitably clapped along to a different rhythm. Each member of the exuberant ensemble got a chance to solo in this driving Finale. Shanier Blumenkranz performed an impressively syncopated bass, with some lovely piano chords from Tareq Yamani while Mamudoski played a winding improvisation. Tamer Pinarbasi played a jazz-rock qanoon solo over alternating rhythms, and all too soon the set list was finished. The youthful band exuded energy and passion for their music, captivating the audience. A short encore, requested by His Highness was an Oud solo of an Omani folksong, then the auditorium gradually emptied after an awe-inspiring, eighty-minute performance. Well done to Eventkum for organising such an innovative show at the much-loved ‘Oman Auditorium’ in Al Bustan Palace!