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Raqsat Salaam gives warm performance of peace

Raqsat Salaam brought Middle Eastern sounds to Trumpet Blossom cafe last night.

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Raqsat Salaam gives warm performance of peace

Raqsat Salaam performs traditional Middle Eastern music at the Trumpet Blossom Cafe this Thurs.

Raqsat Salaam performs traditional Middle Eastern music at the Trumpet Blossom Cafe this Thurs.

Reba Zatz

Raqsat Salaam performs traditional Middle Eastern music at the Trumpet Blossom Cafe this Thurs.

Reba Zatz

Reba Zatz

Raqsat Salaam performs traditional Middle Eastern music at the Trumpet Blossom Cafe this Thurs.

Jack Howard, Arts Reporter

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A belly dancer swaggered to the dance floor, a candelabrum adorning the head. The dancer moved about the hall with a smile, traveling table to table to the rhythm of the tabla drums, baglama, and ouds emanating from the stage.

The clapping crowd further encouraged the dancer on the journey around the room. A unique atmosphere filled the air — an atmosphere of merry cooperation, an atmosphere that Salaam exquisitely delivered to the audience at Trumpet Blossom Café on the evening of Dec. 6.

Active since the early ’90s, Salaam brings the sounds of the Middle East to North America, performing traditional and original compositions. The group, now based in Bloomington, Indiana, was founded by Iraqi-American multi-instrumentalist Dena El Saffar, and American percussionist Tim Moore, and features a rotating cast of versatile musicians, including Ozan Cemali, who performed with the group on Dec. 6.

Salaam considers the group “a musical ambassador for peaceful coexistence,” with the band name itself translating to “peace” in Arabic. Salaam was joined onstage last night by Kahraman, a local dance company specializing in Near Eastern dance.

For Trumpet Blossom’s Raqsat Salaam event, Salaam and Kahraman brought an accessible and enticing song-and-dance performance to Iowa City, a town predominantly sporting a score of local indie-rock and folk musicians. Salaam brought something different to town, performing two sets of playful performances, complete with lively dance routines from Kahraman.

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Salaam took the stage at 7:30, displaying an impressive variety of instruments. The stage setup featured decorative backdrops composed of Egyptian hieroglyphic figures, and the trio, dressed in traditional garb, began the set, performing rhythmically enticing and immersive songs for an eager crowd.

El Saffar played the viola, while Cemali mainly performed oud. Occasionally the group performed medleys, with dueling ouds at the center of the show. Every other track, belly dancers from Kahraman meandered about the space, clacking along with Salaam’s rhythms and engaging with the audience.

A highlight of the night featured sound technician John Cohen performing a traditional “drunk” birthday dance to Salaam’s music. Cohen stumbled about the dance floor, taking on the role of resident drunkie. He wiggled his body about the space, twisting around, ultimately smacking his head in fatigue at the end of the number. The crowd was ecstatic by the end of his routine, delighted by his dedicated performance.

Raqsat Salaam translates to “dances of peace” in Arabic. The group certainly succeeded in bringing the room together with music; everyone in attendance was entranced by the enchanting rhythms and melodies, smiling and laughing with one another.

The intimate setting that Trumpet Blossom provided for the group only furthered the sense of community among all at the event. Salaam sets out to be a musical ambassador to the North American music scene, a scene diverse in its own right.

The group supplied a unique alternative to the usual offerings in Iowa City on Thursday night, an alternative that makes up for Iowa City’s musical shortcomings and made the Middle Eastern musical community in town feel recognized. Salaam brought some well-needed inclusiveness to the town’s music scene, and hopefully, the trio inspired some variety yet to be discovered in Iowa City’s vibrant music scene.

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