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Paulanne Simmons

East Meets West at the Schimmel Center

Arieb Azhar, on Tour
River to River Festival
Michael Schimmel Center for the Arts at Pace University
3 Spruce Street
July 3, 2012
All River to River events are free
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons July 3, 2012

Now in its midway point, the River to River Festival of free music, dance, theater, visual art and film is going strong. On July 3, the festival presented Pakistani singer-songwriter Arieb Azhar at the Michael Schimmel Center for the Arts at Pace University.

Arieb Azhar, who is currently on tour with his band (flute, drums and lead guitar), is a modern day Sufi who sings songs of peace, love and humanity. The songs are mostly upbeat and rhythmic. One can picture the dervishes whirling.

At the Schimmel Center, he performed for a crowd that included people both familiar and new to the music and language of his songs. When the songs were in foreign languages (any of the Indian languages, Roma, Serbo-Croatian), Azhar gave the audience an adequate translation before singing.

Azhar remarked wryly that Serbo-Croatian is now called Croatian, or Serbian or Bosnian, depending on where the language is spoken. It was a sad comment on the state of that region. Azhar also sang in English several songs well-known to Americans: “Down by the Riverside,” “My Way,” “Those Were the Days.”

Azhar has a warm and powerful voice and an engaging personality. He accompanies himself on guitar and occasionally kazoo, an instrument not generally associated with Eastern music. Except for his hat, he is wears western dress, while his musicians wear more traditional clothing.

At a time when it sometimes seems our differences overwhelm our commonality, it’s nice to see a performer who so easily and happily crosses the cultural divide.

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