After concerts in Egypt and Palestine, the Palestinian musician Huda Asfour comes to Beirut as part of the promotional tour for her debut album Jay wa Rayha (Back and Forth), with a performance this evening at the Beirut Arts Centre.
Asfour’s collection of seven songs and instrumental pieces is the culmination of ten years’ experience in music-making with a variety of groups, including the student ensemble Sanabel and the band Jahar, which brought her together with the young singer Tamer Abu Ghazala.
Pieces from the album, the majority of which deal with the themes of exile, occupation and homeland, are to be the centerpiece of Asfour’s Beirut performance. Bashar Farran will accompany her on bass and Ali al-Hout on percussion, while she plays the oud and sings.
Asfour is one of a new generation of young Arab women singer-songwriters. Artists like Tunisia’s Badia Bouhreizi and the Egyptian Maryam have sought to create their own distinctive style and sound, rather than emulating the great divas Like Umm Kalthoum and Fairouz or going along with the current vogue for reviving old classics.
Of this generation, Kamila Jubran has arguably been the most successful in this endeavor, and her influence is clear on the work of the others, including Asfour.
Her still somewhat experimental approach is evident in songs like Yasmine, whose words she wrote in Ramallah in 2002 during the second Palestinian intifada. It combines high poeticism—the lyrics seem derivative of Mahmoud Darwish, who had just published his collection State of Siege—with an eclectic combination of instrumental and vocal passages woven together in an oddly minimalist yet evocative medley, preceded by a lengthy rhythmic oud introduction. Audiences may feel challenged.
Huda Asfour was born to Palestinian parents in Lebanon in 1982, and grew up in Tunisia before moving to Gaza and then Ramallah. After secondary school she went to Birzeit University, where she joined the Sanabel ensemble, and then studied at the National Conservatory of Music under the supervision of the Palestinian musician Khaled Jubran.
She moved to Egypt in 2004 to continue her studies, where she teamed up with Tamer Abu-Ghazala to form Jahar. She performed in Egypt, Palestine and Lebanon, and in 2009 won a grant from the al-Mawred Cultural Foundation, which enabled her to record her first album.
As well as being a musician, Asfour is a practicing biomedical engineer, with a post-doctoral position in the United States.
Concert Preview: Huda Asfour. Beirut Arts Center, Jisr al-Wati, Beirut. Wednesday, June 10, 8:00 pm. (For further information Tel: 01 397018)
[This article was originally published on Al-Akhbar English.]