Mohannad Nasser at Espai Multicultural Sankofa, Valencia

VALENCIA, Spain. While back home, a savage war seems to go on without an end in sight, Syrian oudist and composer Mohannad Nasser offered Sunday a deeply soulful musical response. There were no political statements. None were intended and none were needed. The beauty and humanity of the performance said it all.

Playing before a full room at Espai Intercultural Sankofa, a multicultural neighborhood space in Valencia, Spain; Nasser chose to perform without amplification and it paid off handsomely. Unmediated by electronics, the warm, soft sound of the oud — an ancient, 12 strings, pear-shaped lute that is a mainstay in many Middle Eastern and North African music genres — spoke in a human scale — gently, imperfectly, and rich in nuance.

Performing solo except for three pieces featuring two of his Spanish oud students, Nasser’s repertoire comprised both, traditional instrumental pieces and originals. The latter included unexpected swatches of color that now evoked country music, now Gypsy jazz, and more.
Having left Syria in 2015, Nasser is in Valencia studying at Berklee College of Music. He has spoken about bringing Western elements to Arabic music as a way to both, update the tradition and attract new listeners to it. But fusion always seems to imply accommodation and some loss. Sunday, his work sounded organic.

He didn’t say much. But at one point, as he thanked the hospitality he was enjoying in Spain, Nasser allowed himself to wish out loud that the audience “could one day visit Syria.” Despite the images in recent weeks, there was neither drama nor irony in his statement. Here was a musician suggesting that there was so much more of this music and this beauty back home.
Perhaps. But for the foreseeable future, Nasser will have to bring Syria to his audiences. It’ll be a personal burden that will make the rest of us richer.

Valencia, April 2018