Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Zikrayat Releases 2nd Album, Blends Modern with Classic Egyptian Music

By Morgan Rousseau

As published on Thursday, May 6, 2010 in the Queens Times Ledger
LONG ISLAND CITY -- Zikrayat, the Queens-based musical group that performs new sounds inspired by the golden age of Arabic music and dance, released “Cinematic,” its second album, Saturday. The release was a long-anticipated follow-up to the 2008 Independent Music Award winning album Live at Lotus.

Bandleader Sami Abu Shumays, a Long Island City resident, composed original music for the album, mixing it with both popular and rare songs and dance instrumentals from Egyptian film musicals of the 1950s and 1960s. The arrangements evoke the sound of mid-20th century Egyptian film orchestras.

According to Shumays, Zikrayat strives to capture the Egyptian small ensemble referred to as “takht” and also capture the texture of the musicals.

“They have a lot of dance music. It’s fun, but it’s sophisticated. We capture that kind of artsy-retro dance,” Shumays said.

Shumays plays violin and also sings backing vocals for Zikrayat. The vocals of Salah Rajab are highlighted by the dance beats of master percussionist Faisal Zedan on “Cinematic,” which also features percussionist Johnny Farraj, oud and accordion player Dimitri Mikelis, nay player Bridget Robbins and bassist Apostolos Sideris.

“Cinematic” is a mix of studio tracks and a few live tracks that capture the sounds of their inspired performances.

“We have this whole variety show inspired by the vaudeville format because we can present different sides — the more classical end as well as dance elements, all in one show,” Shumays said.

Joining Zikrayat in their upcoming performances are musicians Tareq Abboush (buzuq, backing vocals), Salma Habib (vocalist), Rami el-Aasser (percussion) and Zafer Tawil (percussion, oud, violin and backing vocals), and belly dancers Robin “Dameshe” Shumays (Sami’s wife, and Zikrayat’s dance director), Yowalka, Mariyah, Sherine and Jaida.

Zikrayat is set to perform its variety show at the LaGuardia Performing Arts Center Friday at 8 p.m., in a multimedia production featuring clips from Egyptian films of the 1940s through the 1960s synchronized to live performances of dance and vocal numbers. The event will feature master dance artist and choreographer Dalia Carella, who will pay tribute to dancer Badia Masabni’s Casino Opera and other Cairo night-clubs of the 1920s and 1930s.

Their LPAC performance promises solo dance pieces alternating with solo vocal pieces, group dance pieces, a vocal duet, instrumental improvisations and more. The show is part of LPAC’s Lab program, which looks to give exposure to emerging artists in New York City.

“What I find exciting about Zikrayat is their ability to address many different audiences across different disciplines,” said Steven Hitt, LPAC’s managing director.

The music and visual performance put on by Zikrayat speak to the Arab and Arab-American community in New York.

“We have an audience of Arabs and Arab-Americans. The younger people have an interest in exploring the culture, while the older people have a nostalgic connection to it,” Shumays said.

However, the music also aims to catch the interest of the belly dance community – which encompasses a multitude of cultures and social groups.

“The belly dance audience is not very familiar with the depth of the tradition, but it is poppy and fun,” Shumays said. “It has an appeal to both audiences.”

The vision for Zikrayat began after Shumays and his wife Robin returned from their honeymoon in Egypt in 2005. The couple purchased a variety of old Egyptian musicals, and promptly fell in love with the genre. After pitching the concept of the group to a few musical acquaintances, Zikrayat was born.

Shumays describes the time period they are exploring as “very ornamented and intricate.”

“My wife’s a belly dancer, and she likes stuff from the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s — upbeat music. We reached a point of agreement with the ’50s,” Shumays said. “It’s a period where Cairo was producing many musicals per year. It still had this very complex sensibility regarding melodies, but it was also fun, upbeat and danceable.”

Zikrayat will also join Salma Habib at Joe’s Pub in Manhattan May 23 at 9:30 p.m. Habib is a prominent up-and-coming Arab vocalist in the United States.

“Cinematic” was introduced with a performance by Zikrayat Saturday at Barbes in Brooklyn, where there were also performances by musical groups Shusmo and Falu. There was a simultaneous broadcast on WFMU 91.1 FM on Rob Weisberg’s “Transpacific Sound Paradise” show, which can be streamed from WFMU’s Web site at

The album is available for purchase at and and on iTunes, and is also available during Zikrayat’s live performances.

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Live at the Gantries brings music to LIC waterfront

By Morgan Rousseau

As published on Friday, June 11, 2010 in the Queens Times Ledger
QUEENS -- The 2010 season of Long Island City’s performance series Live at the Gantries is kicking off with a sunset show at Gantry Plaza State Park June 13 with a performance by the Long Island City Jazz Alliance, a new collective formed by jazz fans and musicians that live and work in LIC.

Live at the Gantries is a series of 10 outdoor free shows featuring some of Queens’ most celebrated new entertainers. After Sunday’s show the performances run weekly, every Tuesday, from June 22 through Aug 18 at 7 p.m. at Gantry Plaza on the Long Island City waterfront.

The series offers up a diverse selection of music, ranging from jazz to classical, power gospel to rock ‘n’ roll and more.

The series is organized and produced by The New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, Queens Theatre in the Park, and Queens Council on the Arts. All three organizations work together, each contributing resources and commitment to make Live at the Gantries what it is.

Since Live at the Gantries began in 2008, it has drawn an eclectic audience of all ages — a combination of LIC residents and folks from other Queens neighborhoods and boroughs, thanks to a blazing word of mouth.

Rachel Gordon, regional director at the Parks Department, came up with the idea for the series because she wanted to make the most of a beautiful state park in the Queens community. “[The series] brings a wonderful sense of community in the larger sense. Not just a community within a few blocks, but in all of Queens, for the city as a whole,” she said.

Gordon calls Live at the Gantries a “unique series in a unique park that stresses the diversity of Queens.”

She describes the selection of performers as a broad spectrum of diversity. “There is a marvelous array of music, performers and people from different parts of Queens, and people from different parts of the world that come to Queens,” Gordon said.

Chris Henderson has been curator of Live at the Gantries for the past three years. He describes the event as having a relaxed setting with a family-oriented crowd made up of children and young adults. In order to choose the musicians, Henderson assembles a master list of Queens-based musicians from which the performers are chosen.

“I’ve worked around the borough, so I know a lot of the bands in the area. I give [the organizers] a list of the bands. We then collaborate on the right mix of balancing different kinds of music — things that are obscure, things that are popular,” Henderson said.

Jeff Rosenstock, executive director of Queens Theatre in the Park, says the organization has been involved since its inception three years ago. Rosenstock says Queens Theatre in the Park’s goal is to make something unique and “Queens-oriented” happen in LIC at no charge to the community.

“We see Live at the Gantries as a window into the artistic depth of our borough’s emerging and diverse performing artists, as well as an entry into one of the city’s most beautiful locations — Gantry Park,” Rosenstock said.

This year’s line-up includes Opera Collective (June 22), whose name is self-explanatory; Pass Kontrol (June 29), an art collective and band that puts on plays and musical performances; Jia-Yi He (July 6), a Taiwanese harmonica virtuoso; DB Rielly (July 13), a roots musician; Mundoclave (July 20), an Afro-Cuban jazz act; Andy Statman (July 27), a mandolin-and-clarinet maestro; the St. Paul AME Mass Church Choir (Aug. 3); Hiromi Suda (Aug. 10), a classically trained singer who has taken up Brazillian jazz; and a closing performance by Mission: on Mars (Aug. 17), an Indian-flavored fusion band.

Adrienne Patino of Opera Collective says the musical group strives to make opera accessible to the general public, which makes Live at the Gantries a perfect venue.

“Any organization like Live at the Gantries that provides musical experiences to the public is very appealing, and you couldn’t ask for a better setting than our city skyline,” Patino said.

Three out of the 10 members of Opera Collective live in Queens. “Being a rather new Queens resident myself, I love getting to know my borough. This series will allow me to explore more parts of my community. And we strive to make our communities better through music,” Patino said.

Gantry Plaza State Park is a 2.5 acre waterside spot between 49th and 50th avenues along the East River in LIC. The venue offers a perfect view of a skyline sunset, with open seating.

"Our goal was not to re-create another large scale outdoor summer festival, but rather to take some exceptional Queens-based artists, fuse them with a beautiful setting and share it all at no charge with all who wish to attend,” Rosenstock said.

Live at the Gantries is sponsored by TF Cornerstone, Rockrose Development Corp. with additional support from State Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan, City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, L Haus, O’Connor Capital Partners and Con Edison.

For more information visit

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Make Music NY Stretches to Queens Neighborhoods

Outdoor music fest expands its reach in Queens

By Morgan Rousseau

As published on Thursday, June 17, 2010 in the Queens Times Ledger

QUEENS -- Hundreds of additional acts are slated to perform at a number of new outdoor, public venues in Queens and across the city at this year’s edition of the celebrated musical event Make Music New York.

Last year’s MMNY had more than 800 events across all five boroughs. This year’s MMNY, set to take place June 21, promises about 5,000 musicians of all ages and musical persuasions — from hip-hop to opera, Latin jazz to punk rock and more. The performances will take place on New York’s streets, sidewalks, stoops, plazas, cemeteries, parks and gardens.

Thousands of musical performers, amateur and professional alike, are expected to perform an elaborate and diverse array of tunes for passers-by.

The musical event, now in its fourth year takes place simultaneously with similar festivities in more than 300 cities around the world, based on France’s Fête de la Musique, a lively street music festival held every June in Paris.

This year’s MMNY has spread to bustling but less central neighborhoods of the city, such as Astoria, Harlem, Fort Greene, and DUMBO. Each of these neighborhoods has benefited from volunteer organizers who helped connect musicians with performance locations.

Astoria Park will welcome jazz and rock performances between the hours of 4:30 and 8 p.m., and Athens Triangle in Astoria will offer a venue for rock and world music from 1-8 p.m. Other Queens locations to host music include Brick Café in Astoria, Gantry Plaza State Park in Long Island City, Queensbridge Park in LIC, Espresso 77 in Jackson Heights, and Tower Square Starbucks in Woodside.

Founder Aaron Friedman says he modeled MMNY after Fête, which he saw in 2006 while in Paris.

“I wanted to give New Yorkers a chance to interact with each other in a spontaneous, musical way, and learn about different kinds of musical cultures in this very diverse city,” Friedman said.

Friedman said this year offers new presenters and highly anticipated performers.

“The first year had 560 free, outdoor concerts across New York City. This year, we’ll have over 1,000 concerts, with about 5,000 musicians. Not only has the event grown, but we’ve started a number of innovative projects,” Friedman said.

One such project will take place in Central Park, where MMNY will offer a celebration of the music of visionary Greek composer Iannis Xenakis. Funded by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, the festivities will include a percussion performance of Xenakis’ “Persephassa” (1969). Xenakis’ music will be performed by six percussionists surrounding the lake.

The Celebration of Xenakis features two different percussion groups – one at the Naumburg Bandshell and the other will be dispersed around Central Park Lake. Three percussionists are slated to perform on the western shore. Audience members are invited to listen from row boats, as there will also be percussionists performing on floating stages. In addition, the composer’s sole opera “Oresteia” will be performed in Central Park’s Swedish Cottage Marionette Theater in a puppet production directed by Italian choreographer Luca Veggetti.

Other notable performances around the city include a New Orleans-style second line jazz parade that will work its way from Soho to Lincoln Square and uptown to Harlem; a program of interactive electronic performances in the Meatpacking District; the Play Hard Corporate Challenge, which gives a performance outlet to business executives who are also amateur musicians; Mass Appeal, which brings together hundreds of musicians to give mass performances onf pieces written for single types of instruments, including accordions, drums, gongs, iPhones, trumpets and tubas; and Punk Island, with more than 100 of the city’s loudest bands playing on Governors Island, where there are no decibel restrictions.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in a statement that the event is a great example of why New York City is one of the world’s cultural capitals.

“Make Music New York gives residents and visitors a chance to experience the City’s diverse musical riches in their own backyards or explore the sights and sounds of other neighborhoods,” he said.

For a complete schedule and list of locations, visit