Live Last Night: Chabab Al Andalous Rabat Orchestra

The 10 performers took their seats on the Millennium Stage and began to play a jaunty dance, its rhythm set by a derbouka, a traditional drum. The spiraling melody and flatted notes -- like the troupe's flowing white robes and red fezes -- indicated that this was Arabic music. Yet it sounded akin to European styles of the Renaissance.

(Read the rest of the review after the jump.)

In a sense, the Chabab Al Andalous Rabat Orchestra does play such a style. The Moroccan group, which performed Wednesday as part of the Kennedy Center's "Arabesque'' series, is dedicated to preserving the musical heritage of southern Spain under Moorish rule, which ended in the 15th century.

Soon, the unity of the 10 instruments -- five bowed strings, three ouds, a tambourine and the derbouka -- began to splinter. The music became a series of exchanges, phrases offered in response to their immediate predecessors.

This was the concert's dominant mode, continuing as the orchestra was joined in succession by two vocalists: gentle alto Bahaa Ronda and booming baritone Mohammed Bajeddoub.

The other musicians answered each singer with their instruments and occasionally their voices, singing in simple, unforced unison that contrasted the keening, melismatic lead vocals.

Bajeddoub was onstage for more than half the hour-long show, and his declamatory style and prolonged tones drew cheers from the crowd. Ultimately, the instrumentalists began to sing along with him, and some of the audience joined in. As the tempo accelerated and the music returned to the close interplay of the opening number, everything felt united again.

- MARK JENKINS

By J. Freedom du Lac |  February 26, 2009; 1:29 PM ET Live Last Night
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