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Heather Raffo and Friends, Arabesque Festival

The Kennedy Center, in its tour-of-the world series of cultural festivals, has brought China, Japan, and now the Arab world to the shores of the Potomac. Given the course of political events over the past decade, Arabesque: Arts of the Arab World, a gargantuan festival of concerts, performances, and exhibits, is being hailed as an important act of cultural diplomacy. In lieu of covering the entire festival, which is frankly impossible, I took in one of the offerings on Friday night.

Available from Amazon
H. Raffo, 9 Parts of Desire
A friend of mine from high school, Heather Raffo, burst onto the scene a few years ago with a devastating one-woman play called Nine Parts of Desire, which I saw in Manhattan and here in Washington at Arena Stage. In this concert version, The Sounds of Desire, cxcerpts from the show were accompanied by background music and interspersed with more substantial selections of Iraqi music performed by oud, percussion, and singing. The musicians were led by Amir ElSaffar, a composer and jazz trumpeter who, since 2002, has pursued an interest in the music of his Iraqi ancestors. ElSaffar provided most of the musical web that linked the monologues together, now without the tense continuous line that connected them in the play, playing both on the santoor, a sort of hammered dulcimer, and bluesy riffs on the trumpet. In the most memorable musical selection, he sang in a mellifluous baritone cantillation.

The Arabesque Festival continues at the Kennedy Center through March 15.

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