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junebug music festival : Dena ElSaffar and Salaam

Salaam has delighted audiences for years with its expansive repertoire of Middle Eastern and North African music. Salaam is true to the traditions, informing the uninitiated, and evoking nostalgia in listeners who are familiar with the art form.  What sets Salaam apart is the versatility of its musicians, whose deep knowledge of Eastern and Western styles gives them the flexibility to move effortlessly between genres.  Iraqi-American band leader Dena El Saffar's compositions take advantage her own eclectic musical upbringing to create a sound rooted in maqam (the modal system used throughout the Middle East), with tasteful forays into Latin, African, Balkan, Rock, Blues, and Classical styles . It is satisfying to bring this original material to the stage alongside lush compositions of Mohammed Abdel Wahab and the Rahbani Brothers, historic Ottoman Empire-era Peshrevs, anonymous Iraqi songs, and folkloric melodies from Upper Egypt.  Salaam, whose name means peace in Arabic, is a musical ambassador for peaceful coexistence. 

“Salaam…subtly transposes a genre of music few Americans are even aware of into a sonic realm that feels enchanting and exotic, while still strangely familiar.” – Banning Eyre, NPR