A Caravanserai was once a place in Southern Asia and Northern Africa where knowledge and understanding of cultures spread. They were a type of inn that provided lodging and shelter where travelers from across the continents would stop to rest, and in the meantime trade goods, stories and learn about the far-off humans that were unlike themselves. With this transformative atmosphere in mind, musical groups and artists from Morroco, now traveling the United States sharing their music and culture, named their project and set their agenda — Caravanserai: A Place Where Cultures Meet.
Musicians in the project, the Majid Bekkas Gnawa Ensemble featuring Brahim Fribgane, traveled through Northwest Arkansas to attempt to open the dialogue about a predominantly Muslim culture — to help American children and adults alike to see that, like them, these African natives have families, stories and art.
“We envisioned the arenas becoming places for travelers and artists to come and feel safe and share their cultures and stories,” said Adam Perry, Senior Program Director and Accessibility Coordinator. “That’s the idea — people can come together and learn about people from far away places and different cultures and sing their songs and play their music.”
The project hosted two separate weeklong residencies that will culminate tonight at the Walton Arts Center, featuring musical styling’s that go back centuries, and display characteristics of the beginnings of some American music like blues and jazz. The call and response methods of the singers mixed with the bright costumes and soulful vocals allow listeners and viewers to visit a place completely unlike their own.
The group stopped at elementary and high schools, the University of Arkansas, the public library and senior centers all with the hope of shifting conversations about Muslim culture from rhetoric and misunderstanding to respect and appreciation.
The music of the Majid Bekkas Gnawa Ensemble is all healing music, based on the ceremonies that go all night where the group heals people and fixes souls with music. Brahim Fribgane will share his cultural heritage through his 11-stringed instrument called an oud that dates back over 5,000 years.
“There’s a whole bunch of imagery and costumes that go into it to make it fun. Since the music is the predecessor to blues and jazz, it informs the beginnings of our own musical stylings as well,” Perry explained.
The concert at Walton Arts Center is being held tonight, Oct. 18, at 7 p.m. For more information on the project, to watch videos and more, visit their website at www.caravanserai-arts.org. To purchase tickets to tonight’s show, visit waltonartscenter.org.