Constantinople’s “In the Footsteps of Rumi” – Victoria

Friday Nov 8, 2019


First Metropolitain United Church

932 Balmoral Rd.
Victoria, BC


Featuring an exceptional 8-piece ensemble of musicians, Montreal’s Constantinople takes us on a journey into the luminous universe of Rumi’s timeless poetry about love and existence. A master in Farsi and Arabic, Rumi played with the meaning and cadence of words in both languages to create verses brimming with wonder, mysticism, and musicality. Inspired by those qualities, Kiya Tabassian, artistic director of Constantinople, has set Rumi’s work to music, with the collaboration of Tunisian singer and multidisciplinary artist Ghalia Benali.

In this concert, Rumi’s rhythms, dances, and songs of love and lament will be performed by a group of artists who together are masters of many musical traditions. Alongside Kiya Tabassian on setar/vocals (Iran) and Didem Basar on qanun (Turkey) of Constantinople will be guest vocalist Ghalia Benali (Tunisia), Nasser Salamah on percussion (Jordan), Hamin Honari on percussion (Iran), Neva Ozgen on kemanche (Turkey), Reza Abaee  on gheychak (Iran) and Nazih Borish on oud (Syria).

Ghalia Benali is a singer and artist of Tunisian origin, living in Belgium. Different cultures, East and West come together in her art work, as well as in her biography. Ghalia was born in Brussels; however, four years later, her parents decided to return home and she found herself in a small town of Zarzis in south of Tunisia, not far from the island of Djerba. There, between the eternal blue colors of the sky and sea and the same eternal yellow sands of Sahara, the time stood still, and the tourists and radio were the only links to the world outside. There, in the provincial wilderness, adoring to sing and dance, little Ghalia had no other music teachers than her mother. Recitations of the Quran, Indian and Egyptian films, voices of Arab music stars Om Kalthoum and Adib al-Dayikh were the first impressions forming the taste of talented girl… Much later it has developed into a special mix of anything in multicultural Belgium where Ghalia went to study art. There she began to sing and perform professionally by late 1990s. The idea to re-visit the songs of Arab Diva with a small band, trying to get not exactly to the sound, but to the spirit of the great performer brought on a breakthrough project, the album ‘Ghalia Benali sings Oum Kalthoum’ released in 2010. Numerous TV appearances in Egypt, Lebanon and other Arab countries have followed. Among her earlier CDs are the bright big label debut “Wild Harissa” (2001, Network), Indo-Arab fusion “Nada” (2002), mystical love story of East and West “Romeo & Leila” (2006) and Ghalia’s personal offering to the Indian sage Sri Aurobindo and the great Sufi woman saint Rabi’a al-Adawiyya, “Al Palna” (2008, with Bert Cornelis). In 2008 she won the World of Music Award for the best world music song, presented by an independent British organization “We Are Listening”. In the second decade of XXI century Ghalia has found her spiritual home in Egypt, which rich musical culture inspired her for new projects: the series of ambient sounding and looking clips for YouTube and SoundCloud with her singing the poetry of contemporary Arab authors, mainly Egyptian. Two more big projects were unveiled this year: a special re-introduction of “Al Palna” for the Egyptian audience and an exquisite revision of traditional Arab takht ensemble changing strings for brass, presented at Makan in May.

Constantinople is a musical ensemble that chose the journey—geographical certainly, but also historical, cultural and inner—as its cornerstone. It draws inspiration from all sources and aims for distant horizons. Inspired by the ancient city illuminating the East and West, Constantinople was founded in 1998 in Montreal by its artistic director, Kiya Tabassian.

Since its founding, the ensemble promotes the creation of new works incorporating musical elements of diverse musical traditions around the world, drawing from medieval manuscripts to a contemporary aesthetic, passing by Mediterranean Europe to Eastern traditions and New World Baroque. Underpinned by a spirit of research and creation, Constantinople has joined forces with leading international artists such as singers Marco Beasley, Françoise Atlan, Savina Yannatou and Suzie Le Blanc; the Mandingo griot Ablaye Cissoko; the Greek ensemble En Chordais, the Belgian duo Belem and the American group The Klezmatics; sarangi virtuoso Dhruba Ghosh, Syrian clarinettist and composer Kinan Azmeh, and Iranian kamancheh master Kayhan Kalhor.

Regularly invited to perform in international festivals and prestigious concert halls, such as the Salle Pleyel in Paris, the Berliner Philharmonie, the Fes Festival of World Sacred Music in Morocco, the Rencontres musicales de Conques in France, the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto, the Cervantino Festival in Mexico, the Festival de Carthage in Tunisia, the Onassis Cultural Centre-Athens and the BOZAR in Brussels, Constantinople is acclaimed by the public, music professionals and critics alike. The ensemble has 18 albums to its credit on labels Analekta, Atma, World Village, Buda Musique and MaCase. Over the course of the decade, Constantinople has created nearly 40 works and travelled to more than 140 cities in 30 countries.