Thirteenth-century Arabic poetry by Sufi mystics and the music that brings it to life made for a rare treat Friday night at the Massry Center for the Arts at The College of Saint Rose when Amir Vahab and his four-piece Soroosh ensemble performed, occasionally accompanied by a whirling dervish.
Soroosh means messenger angel, an appropriate name for the type of material Vahab focused on: spirituality, faith, and mysticism particularly in reference to Sufi, which is the “mystical heart of Islam,” Vahab said. The word itself means to filter, cleanse or purify, he said, which is what the whirling dervish was doing for about five of the several songs the group played. Dressed in white shirt, jacket, leggings and skirt that billowed out when he whirled counterclockwise, the dervish was “practicing non-existence … to become intoxicated with the lava of god,” Vahab said. His white suit represented the shroud, his tall fez-like hat was the tombstone, his uplifted arms were about receiving and giving God’s gifts. When he wasn’t whirling, he kneeled on a small rug in a corner of the stage without moving. Once he was up, every move was formulaic, as he repeated them in exact sequence for every whirl.
Vahab sang in Persian or Turkish while playing the oud, a lute-like instrument, to the accompaniment of three defs (large drums that look like oversize tambourines) and a wooden recorder-like instrument. The strophic songs differed mostly in rhythm, tempo and mood, as the modal scale sounded the same. Prior to each song, the translation of a poem by Rumi or another Sufi mystic was read. It all sounded exotic and when the whirling dervish joined in, the large crowd could imagine itself in a distant locale. On one song, Vahab played a ney, an open-ended vertical flute that King David was said to have mastered.
On the final song, Vahab taught the crowd the few Arabic words needed for the verse and when to come in after he’d sung his solo lines. Obviously pleased with the result, he said it all sounded so beautiful he wanted to take everyone to his next concert.
This concert, which was a collaboration with the local Turkish Cultural Center, is a new venture in the hall’s programming to better reflect the school’s growing international student body.