Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Sun is Shinin'

Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

Little Joe McLerran Quartet with Abo Siraj
On Saturday, after a time out at the hotel our friend Ali took to the old city market. Robbie, Joe, and Ronnie picked up some goodies to bring home and I drank in all the sights, sounds and aromas of this exotic Middle Eastern bazaar. The old city of Jeddah is over 400 years old and Ali walked us deep into the heart of this antiquity. There were thousands of shops and vendors selling everything, literally from soup to nuts. Joey was approached by a man selling a battery powered vibrating back massager. Joe suggested that the man talk to Ronnie instead. Ronnie then spent the next 10 minutes trying to dissuade a very persistent salesman. The good news is he dropped his price from 50 Saudi riyals to 10 Saudi riyals (that’s from about $13 to $2.50) but Ronnie was able to escape with all his riyals intact. Ali then took us for a quick stop at the best shawarma and juice stand in the city. Shawarma is like a Mideast sandwich wrap….with meat wrapped in warm pita bread and topped with hummus or vegetables or pesto or whatever they’ve got. I had both a chicken and a beef shawarma, as well as a banana smoothie milkshake. It was so good I almost bit my finger eating it!

Mr. Sadeg and Berneso display the
Mississippi saxophones and bamboo cane flutes
After the market, we departed for the office-studio of the famous Saudi musician and band leader, Omar Alattas. Omar is a famous singer and musician who performs at countless private parties, weddings, and official events. We were greeted with a warm welcome from our musical brothers, offering Arab coffee, tea, yummy sweets, and conversation. After the pre-music visit we toured his facility and were led into a carpeted room. As soon as we entered the room Omar's band started playing a fantastic number, featuring singing, and rhythmic hand clapping that sounded like loud cracks in 16th beats. We all sat on the floor and proceeded to exchange instruments with our counterparts. Joey explored the nuances of playing an oud, Ronnie played various drums, and I tried, to no avail, to get any kind of sound from a bamboo flute. Mr. Sadeg was my flute playing counterpart and he made some impressive tones on his new harmonica as we continued to chuckle at my total inability to even get a squeak from my new flute. We had great fun playing and enjoying each others music without words. Once again the truth presents itself to us....Music is the universal language! We then played songs for each other. Omar's band was so impressive in their musicianship and ensemble playing. Mr. Omar directed his super tight band with hand gestures and as the evening progressed, violins, flute, oud, and a dancer was added to the mix. After about 40 minutes of glorious music we took our sweaty selves back to Mr. Omar’s office for more food, photos, and an embarrassment of gifts. Then hand shakes and hugs with a promise to talk to our friends at Lincoln Center about bringing Omar's fantastic Saudi folklore group, Abo Siraj to New York for a performance. We are sure Americans would love the music.  This was another Arabian night to remember.  How can it be that every day and with every experience, I find myself thinking, “this was the high point of our tour!”

Al Diddley Bo, Saudi style
Our mission on Sunday was to perform a concert at Effat University for Women. We were not sure what to expect but we were pleasantly surprised to play in front a large appreciative group of college women. As you can imagine Joey was a big hit with the young women and we signed lots of autographs. After the show we had a nice lunch and chat with the administrator, who gave us a brief overview of this one of a kind school. Math, engineering and sciences are the core curriculum and the students receive a top notch education with all the texts and instruction in English. Duke University in the US is their partner and they regularly exchange students and faculty there. The future looks bright for these brilliant young Saudi women!  Photography of the women was prohibited, but we got some good shots of the band on stage.
LJMQ at the Effat University with a backdrop of the old city of Jeddah.
Tomorrow we leave the kingdom of Saudi Arabia. It has been an incredible week here, filled with experiences I will never forget. Our journey tomorrow takes us to Kuwait for more stops on the Rhythm Road.


  1. So glad to hear you are enjoying your tour. Thanks for the updates and the great photos. Loved the post about GSA--who knew???

  2. Thanks for taking us along on your trip.
    I have thoroughly enjoyed following your blog.
    I especially enjoyed this Jeddah stop as I
    had the privilage to visit there as a flight nurse back in the 80s.
    It's nice to know you are enjoying your travels. virgmck ';'