Riad & Takht
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Riad & Takht

Westlake Village, California, United States | INDIE | AFM

Westlake Village, California, United States | INDIE | AFM
Band World New Age


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I'm not comfortably familiar with Middle Eastern music, but I know a good musician when I hear one, and Riad Abdel-Gawad certainly fits that bill.

On his second album, the Egyptian-born composer-performer (a Harvard graduate with a PhD in musical composition) showcases his exemplary violin (kamanga) playing in exotic Middle Eastern tuning and scales. Abdel-Gawad is a master of both his instrument and the music he produces with it. He plies his trade with unfaltering, steady, and confident note-precision virtuosity. The music is equally challenging and kinetic, with constantly changing time signatures, tempos, melodies, motifs, and riffs, all within the same song.

Abdel-Gawad has a great band of musicians backing him up: Mohamed Foda (Fouda) on nay (bamboo flute), Saber Abdel-Sattar on qanun (plucked dulcimer), Yousri Abdel-Maqsoud on bongos, duff, and riqq (tambourine), and Hesham Makarem on the oud (lute). Although Abdel-Gawad is the lead composer and performer, he functions simultaneously as bandleader, soloist, and ensemble player. Through it all, Abdel-Ga wad's fellow musicians stay with him every step of the way, never missing a beat. This is one of the tightest, well-coordinated musical units I have ever had the pleasure of listening to.

The recording quality and presentation of the music is top-notch, as well. The sound is so intimate and well-defined that it feels as if you're right next to the bandstand. The packaging material is also exquisite, with beautiful art on the cover and in the CD holder, and a glossy sixteen-panel foldout featuring vivid color photography of the artist and his violin amidst Egyptian landmarks, as well as detailed descriptions of the meanings, inspirations, and intentions behind the music.

All around, this is an exceptional offering from a dedicated and innovative artist. If you're looking for a great introduction to Middle Eastern music, this is definitely a wonderful place to start. - RajMan Reviews

Violinist and composer Riad Abdel-Gawad has a new album called Egypt – Mother of the World. It is more lighthearted than his previous release El Tarab El Aseel, which was more of a character study into Middle Eastern musical history and theory. On every Abdel-Gawad album ethnicity is assured as he insists that his ensemble use instruments that have been in use for centuries. The Middle eastern violin or kamanga is his lead instrument and accompanying him is his ensemble consisting of Mohamed Fouda on nay (bamboo flute), Issam Makaram on the oud (lute), Saber Abdel-Sattar on the qanum or dulcimer, and Yousri Abdel-Maqsoud on percussion. When the music starts playing it sounds like more than just five talents making the particular brand of music, it is more like musical history.

Ancient historians believed that the gift of the Nile River was Egypt; fertile, lush and mysterious. From space it is the only greensward visible in northern Africa. It is easy to make the connection from Egypt to Mother of the World and Abdel does this rather well in songs of history, fantasy and everyday philosophy.

The opening number or Prologue uses the entire ensemble to play a traditional tune by way of introduction. It is the beginning of the expedition that will take the listener through arid deserts, rich valleys and everything in between. The music will also bridge the gap from the Old World to the new.

Ghagar is ironically the Egyptian world for gypsy. It sounds redundant, but nomadic music has been around since the dawn of man. Whether it be five thousand years ago or tomorrow, man is always searching for verdant pastures and clean, clear water for his body and blessed peace for his soul. Ghagar is a rather mellow tune, almost a small celebration in which the lute plays a prominent part.

The music in Mother of the World offers a dramatic honor to the birthplace of modern civilization. Philosophies and religions took shape on the delta and history followed soon thereafter. One can return to an age 10,000 years before Christ walked the earth and find evidence of modern government and centers for knowledge. Abdel's violin seems to peel back the pages of time like an onion as we discover something new and bold in every stanza of the music.

Kahn El Kalily is the soundtrack for a bazaar where the sounds and smells delight the senses and the music gets the heart racing.
You can find pottery, leather good, perfume and spices. The suqs offer everything in the way of necessities and more importantly, in pleasures. A pleasurable encounter is the violin solo that appears in the song. Its tempo suggests the winding path through the bazaar stalls, the time chatting with vendors and friends and the warmth of the experience.

Every teenager whose brain starts asking questions about the world eventually stumbles upon Kahill Gibran and his wonderful poetry and essays. Abdel and his ensemble pay tribute to the poet philosopher in their whirling song Upon The Banks of the Nile, a homage to when Gibran lived in Egypt. I think an apt quote from Gibran would be, "If you sing of beauty though alone in the heart of the desert you will have an audience."

As a writer, I could not resist the title Papyrus to Calligraphy. It is the culmination of most of the preceding tracks and a large part of improvised music that when carefully considered, actually becomes a prayer for unity and peace. After listening to this song just once, I wondered how it could be duplicated with its sorrowful beseeching and moving melody.

With bright, long strokes Riad Abdel-Gawad and his ensemble paints a broad musical picture of a place that man has known as the center of culture for centuries. He has led us from north to south and on every bank of the Nile River and east to west though every arid desert and verdant valley. His gifts have made us better for the journey, culturally and spiritually.
- Zone Music Reporter

A soul-stirring blend of classical, instrumental, Arabic tunes are Riad Abdel-Gawad's trademark. The follow-up to Riad's first release, El Tarab El Aseel (Incognito, 2008), continues the Arabic folk music traditions with a repertoire of violin, riqq, tambourine, daf, bongos, qanun, nay flute, oud, and contrabass. The entire album is void of vocalizations. Instead, the instruments provide a leading role. The tunes are completely original, but resemble Middle Eastern and Central Asian ensemble music. This could be due in part to Egypt being the 'mother of the world' as the birthplace of culturally confluent musical idioms. Whatever the reason, the lively compositions dance around in the listener's head long after the CD ends. The running time is over seventy-minutes. The liner notes fold out into a colored picture of Riad playing a violin in front of some pyramids, while the opposite side contains English and Arabic song summaries superimposed over instrument images. A classical release of creative proportions! - Inside World Music, Matthew Forss

The Chicago World Music Festival 2010 is just concluding their annual city wide venue regularly hosted by the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and since the inception in 1999, has entertained over a half million visitors by traditional and contemporary music concerts performed live by music professionals spanning the globe.

Riad Abdel-Gawad is a violinist just concluding his performances with his ensemble at the Clarke House Museum & South Shore Cultural Center during this international multi cultural event which over the years has had representation of seventy five countries.

His concert appearances during the Chicago World Music Festival were held just recently in September 2010 and in addition, Riad Abdel-Gawad has extensively toured the U.S. this year with his ensemble from Cairo Egypt. The newly released Egypt : Mother of the World was designed to coincide with his U.S. ensemble tour and the numerous venues where people have had a chance to hear his multi cultural music during live performances.

Riad Abdel-Gawad is a Harvard graduate with a PH.D in Musical Composition. When his educational and Western classical influences are joined with his Middle Eastern ensemble the equation becomes a wonderful cross section of music that blends into a much broader World influence. Also having toured many countries as a violinist, in addition to a large presence in online radio programming, his recognition has nicely reached an international audience.

Egypt: Mother of the World is his 2010 Middle Eastern, World, New Age, Contemporary release featuring four additional musical talents comprising his ensemble. Egyptian born Riad Abdel-Gawad had wrote the original compositions and all musicians are highly recognized artists in Middle Eastern music and perform on traditional ethnic instruments so the listener is greatly rewarded with colorful and authentic works of beauty.

The professional musicians playing on this album include Yousri Abdel-Maqsoud on percussion, bongos, duff, riqq ( tambourine ) Saber Abdel-Sattar qanun ( plucked dulcimer ) Hesham Makarem oudist oud ( lute ) and Mohamed Foda ( Fouda ) nayist ( bamboo flute ) The physical CD includes a large colorful 16 page foldout booklet describing the meaning and inspiration for each piece and makes a nice bonus.

Egypt : Mother of the World is an excellent introduction for those less familiar with Middle Eastern music and for those connoisseurs, the album is an unrivaled work of art given by some great talents. Riad performs on a violin tuned several tones lower keeping with traditional Middle Eastern standards and this tuning in tonal pitch does make the recognizable variations from Western music clear.

The quality of this professional ensemble and their authentic style of music can be felt from the first of fifteen songs which as it turns out, truly does deliver a wonderful atmosphere while becoming a global festival and lively cultural event in music.

Visit the musicariad.com website to sample / purchase or visit his Amazon.com page and most major outlets. - New Age Music, John Olsen

I have been an enthusiastic listener of 'World' music for many years - from scrabbling around the tuning dial and with my ear glued to the speaker of a short wave radio to today's embarrassment of riches on CD. Arab music is a rich lodestone of influences and cultural history - one of our cradles of ancient civilisation - so this new album by Egyptian violinist Riad Abdel-Gawad is most welcome as this music is under-represented in my collection. As one can infer from the title, Egypt: Mother of the World, is new music composed and performed in the traditional style, no modern electric instruments or studio trickery allowed. So here you will experience the sound of the riqq, bongos, duff, qanun, oud, nay, contrabass and violin. There are fifteen tracks, all written by Riad Abdel-Gawad and performed by his Middle Eastern ensemble of six musicians, led by Mr Abdel-Gawad's violin. The wonderful track titles conjure up strong imagery: Saltanah, Minarets and Domes, "...Upon the Banks of the Nile", Egyptian Bazaar, Waterwheel and many more. There is a lot of cheap tourist musical tat knocking around but Egypt: [Mother of the World] isn't one of them - this is the real deal, rich in musical colour and equally vibrant in creating a vision of the country in your mind while listening to the CD. I've been playing the album quite a bit and it doesn't tire, its lively melodies and rhythms perking up these jaded ears - highly recommended and most definitely one of my albums of 2010. If you enjoy traditional music from other parts of the world just buy this and enjoy! - The Borderland, UK

Born in Egypt and educated with a doctorate in music from Harvard, Riad Abdel-Gawad knows his way around Arabic compositions. Riad performs traditional Arabic music using different classical modes of performance. The classical elements are also closely associated with compositions outside of the Middle East region. Riad's violin playing is precise and steeped in tradition. Yet, the violin is also joined with the oud, riqq, qanun, and ney flute. Anyone with a knowledge of traditional Arabic music and classical compositions will listen to Riad with a different 'ear' than the casual aficionado of Middle Eastern music. Nevertheless, it's an amazing instrumental collection of four very long compositions that do not require a doctorate in order to appreciate it. A classic release! - Matthew Forss

When a musician combines technical skill with the right amount of soul, tarab is what ensues—a state of ecstasy shared by both performer and listener. So it makes sense that violinist Riad Abdel-Gawad, who happens to own a Ph.D. from Harvard, would refer to this heightened state in the title of his CD. Western jazz and blues modes often connect naturally to the ancient Arabic styles of composition and improvisation, and Abdel- Gawad’s command of both worlds lends his music a taste of the ecstatic and the avant-garde. Backed by a classical Arab ensemble of oud, nay (flute), riqq (Arabic tambourine) and qanun (zither), he delivers four extended pieces that immediately conjure an Egyptian classical sound—due in no small part to his upbringing in Cairo, as well as the regional popularity of the legendary Syrian-born violinist-composer Sami Al-Shawwa, whom Abdel- Gawad claims as an indirect influence. El Tarab El Aseel is an album of sweeping drones, patient tempos and endless possibilities for a music whose evolution began long before the invention of the phonograph. - Bruce Miller

History through Music

If you are doing a thesis on Middle Eastern music, then your journey begins here. This recording is in the modal form of Arabic music or the discoveries of the ancient poet/musicians of the Byzantine Empire that traveled from the Middle East and North Africa and followed where Islam trekked from Spain to Southern Europe. On El Tarab El Aseel: Autochthonic Enchantment, there is a kind of purity to the music. It remains unspoiled by mixing consoles and overly anxious producers. The ethnic arrangements are a true representation of a segment of Middle Eastern compositions that are the very foundation of the genre. Incidentally, four years of Latin let me down. I had to look up autochthonic. In this case, it is music from where it is found or indigenous. Perhaps there is a double entendre to improvisations.

Riad Abdel-Gawad is a Harvard trained musician that has more degrees than a Celsius thermometer that warms all from Belgium to France and Southern California to Cincinnati. He trained in Western classical violin, but his album embraces the style of taqasim or Arabic improvisation and tarab the art of musical ecstasy. He utilizes acoustic ethnic instruments and composition skills deeply rooted in the past. Together they make for a recording that is enjoyable and at the same time historically correct.

El Tarab El Aseel: Autochthonic Enchantment is divided into four parts; the first element is called Longa Nahawand. Middle Eastern music is comprised of several modes and unlike Western music, it takes a listener quite some to to hear a pattern in this music, but if you wait long enough it becomes evident. This tune starts out with what sounds like an oriental influence. The fifteen-minute tune is a duel between violin and zither. It is a chase, a canter if you will as the instruments vie for your attention. Deep inside the melody is a spirit of celebration or perhaps discovery.

Qiblah, the second track has a bit more spirit and structure than the first track. It feels and sounds more like an animated dance and the music more akin to folk music. The ticking percussion and whirling melody makes you want to participate, to be part of the performance. The song is somewhat familiar as it has an interpretation familiar to Western ears, but only for a short time before the music turns to new territory once again.

We are fortunate to have a Greek title for track three, Delta. It is usually reserved for the mouth of a river with a rich silt buildup, but in this case it is a depository of singular styles that co-mingle into a lively cacophony of performances featuring the unusual instruments. I truly liked the performance of the nay or Arab flute that lent a bit of magic to the tune.

Finally, the last track Sama'i Sultanah Yakah. The song starts out on a very dramatic note, however the tone changes quickly and the tempo changes into something very Western for a time (no pun intended). The violin resumes its place in the lead and the tune has a push-pull timbre. The drama builds until the rest of the instruments unite into a series of energetic sweeps that seem to repeat in a quick pattern.

If you want to learn more about the Arabic melodic modes, known as maqamat than you can do no better than this recording. If you want to learn about music from not only another country, but from another century, than I recommend this album. After several listens, I truly felt that I was part of the music and after all, that is the magic of all music. - R.J. Lannan

Profoundly influenced by Syrian-born violinist and composer Sami Shawwa, Riad Abdel-Gawad captures the essence of his own roots in Cairo with this adventurous piece. By turns lush, meditative and revelatory, this is Egyptian classical music at its finest. - Phil Freeman

“Riad Abdel-Gawad, a Western- trained composer and violinist with a 1995 PhD in composition from Harvard, was born in Cairo and has extensive experience in the artistic school of Abdo Dagher (b. 1936), a well-known violinist from the orchestra of the great Egyptian singer Umm Kulthum (1904-75). Thus, Abdel-Gawad, with his American/European education and Arab background, is naturally a proponent of transnational composition and performance, or as [is noted] on his website, the fusion of a “variety of Western and Eastern genres and canons” (http//www.riadabdelgawad.com). Yet El Tarab El Aseel is not exactly such an east-west fusion, as it is primarily an Arab offering. Nevertheless, it is flavored with some interesting unconventional tinges that no doubt reflect Riad Abdel-Gawad’s non-Egyptian educational influences.
The title El Tarab El Aseel stresses the Arab roots of the CD. Tarab is a term in Arabic that means a sense of “delight” or “ecstasy” evoked from an effective musical performance that normally features embellishment or improvisation. Aseel translates to “native” or “pure”; thus, the CD presents a search for “pure ecstasy,” that is “pure tarab”. The Arab element is further emphasized by the fact that the works are performed by a traditional takht ensemble, a small chamber group (one instrument on a part) comprised of standard Arab instruments. Takht, which is a Persian word for platform (the place on which the musicians would be seated), is a musical grouping that dates back to the late 19th century; takht ensembles tend to perform art music as opposed to pop or folk. Two to five instrumentalists form the core that might accompany a vocal soloist and a chorus. The five instruments featured on this CD, with no vocalists, form a standard takht: ud (Arab pear-shaped lute), riqq (Arab tambourine), qanun (plucked zither), nay (Arab vertical flute), and kamanjah (violin). Takht music, like other traditional music of the region, is basically non-chordal and comprised of elements of improvisation and heterophony—individual instruments may have extensive improvisatory solos and/or all instruments may play the same melodic line together but with individual embellishments.
The title of the initial piece ‘Longa Nahawand,’ indicates the form and the mode: longa, which has Turkish roots, is a type of rondo featuring a repeated phrase; and nahawand is the primary melodic mode (maqam) in this work, similar to a western minor scale. The composition opens with an extensive improvisatory section, a taqsim, over drones. The first solo is offered by the qanun, then interrupted by a slight refrain, and subsequently taken over by the violin which has been tuned down, as [Neil van der Linden] mentions in the liner notes, to aid in producing tarab (the g string tuned down to f; d to c; a to f; e to bb). The violin solo introduces some creative use of glissandi and tonal shifts…
The second work, “Qiblah,” following a solo of free nay (flute), launches into a spirited metered 5/4. Here the ensemble feeds off of one another quite well and clearly finds a groove, as they tastefully support various soloists who improvise fluidly with the irregular metric pattern. Refreshing and animated, the musicians pleasantly hang together…with discrimination…on the whole “Delta” is an agreeable offering.
The CD closes with “Sama’i Sultanah Yakah,” in a form, a sama’i, comprised of several sections delineated by refrains…enticing passages are manifest here as the ensemble moves through the various affects of the multi-sectional work. The violin again is…strong…the instrumental colors and stylizations of the other instruments…push through…with noted distinction.
Overall, Abdel-Gawad presents a CD in line with…a product ‘deeply rooted in perennial Arab musical heritage’ yet one that delves into ‘new musical frontiers.’ Although Abdel-Gawad seeks ‘to safeguard Middle Eastern musical practice,’ he clearly attempts to instill a strong flavor from his other musical experiences, and in this endeavor he succeeds. The compositions of El Tarab El Aseel are unquestionably Arab, but with a twist. Such creativity comes with the challenge of maintaining musical cohesion: the musicians must brave new territory as they perform in traditional genres, strive to be personally inventive within large improvisatory sectors, yet produce a work with unified lucid musicality. Of course, this trial has confronted many an improvisatory-based ensemble, where the demands of wanting to feature the individuality of a soloist must be balanced with the demands of overall unity. Thus, understandably there a few contextually daring moments in this CD. In general, El Tarab El Aseel holds up well to its ideals, as the work puts a strong foot forward in bringing a taste of inventiveness to long-standing Arab genres.”
~Lisa Urkevich - Journal for the Society of Asian Music


City Hall Records - Riad Abdel-Gawad: Egypt - Mother of the World

City Hall Records - Riad Abdel-Gawad - El Tarab El Aseel---"Pure Ecstasy"

Hundreds of recorded songs from 1966 - 1973 for El Massiya Ensemble with Abdel-Halim El-Hafiz, Warda, legendary Arab singers; Yousri Abdel-Maqsoud played bongos for eight years in that renowned and prolifically recorded ensemble.

Celestial Harmonies Series - Mohamed Foda, nay player, "Music of Islam, vol. 1, Qahirah: the traditional music of Egypt"

Virgin Records - Mozart d-Egypte

Virgin Records - "Egypt: From the Desert to the Sea"

Future Classics - Spanning the Globe – Music from Six Continents



In order to deepen the profundity and to broaden the appeal of his music, Mr. Abdel-Gawad apprenticed with arguably the most esteemed master of Egyptian traditional music (Abdo Dagher)— a road less traveled for a Harvard University Ph.D. holder. From 1993 to 2002, he mostly was based in Brussels and Cairo. He performed as a street musician in Paris and Brussels; was commissioned by and performed with the L'Ènsemble Musique Nouvelle for the Ars Musica Festival; gave concerts and workshops in Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Denmark, Spain and Switzerland, as well as cofounded a traditional Egyptian Music School funded by the Dutch Embassy in Cairo. In 2004 and 2005, funded by arts organizations in Marseille and Brussels which support inter-African artistic collaborations, Mr. Abdel-Gawad traveled to the Congo and the Equatorial Rain Forest in Cameroon to collaborate with musicians from all over north and sub-Saharan Africa.

Today his compositions have embraced Egypt’s 7000 year old multilayered history of folk music, sacred chant and secular song. Abdo Dagher, who teaches Arab music the old school way through talqin el-shif‘i – oral transmission, founded a unique teacher-disciple school of Egyptian music. This school of music is the only such school to develop in recent (c. 100 years) documented Cairo history. Mr. Abdel-Gawad is considered by his peers in Egypt to be one of the most serious artists to come out of this distinct stylistic school.

Mr. Abdel-Gawad has taught music at Harvard University, the American University in Cairo and Los Angeles Mission College. He also was the Whittlesey Chair Visiting Professor at the American University of Beirut. Some of Mr. Abdel-Gawad’s awards and grants he received have come from the following: Akademie Schloss Solitude in Stuttgart, ASCAP, BMI, Harvard University, the Los Angeles Music Awards and the Sparkplug Foundation. Selected workshops Mr. Abdel-Gawad has given include at the Higher Institute of Arabic Music in Cairo, for Carnegie Hall, and at the National Music Academies of Berlin and Hannover.

Mr. Abdel-Gawad released two full-length albums El Tarab El Aseel (“Pure Ecstasy”) in 2007 and Egypt: Mother of the World both of which have worldwide distribution (e.g. Barnes & Noble, Itunes). Mr. Abdel-Gawad recently played on Guarneri and Stradivarius violins in Qatar for a concert at the Qatar Islamic Museum in collaboration with the Director of European Operations of the Stradivari Society.

Band Members