by SOPHIE BIRD
Although Salaam has been together a quarter of a century, founder Dena El Saffar says that only recently has the Middle Eastern quartet hit upon a certain balance that had been quietly simmering for nearly a decade. With patience, practice, and the space to make intuitive music, she says the group feels it has achieved the ideal blend of cultural sounds.
“We’ve finally found this perfect balance where everybody is truly representing their cultural music and finding a way to not compromise while we work together,” El Saffar says.
For the past eight years, Salaam has been composed of El Saffar and local musicians Tim Moore, Tomás Lozano, and Ozan Cemali. The group’s focus is on Arabic, Turkish, Greek, Kurdish, Iranian, and Jewish Sephardic music, drawing on the heritage and interest of each member. The word salaam, which means “peace,” is a popular Middle Eastern salutation.
Throughout its 25 years, the group has performed at 30 universities, 15 museums, and nearly 50 festivals, including performances at the Chicago Cultural Center and Alwan for the Arts in New York City, as well as at private events and other gatherings.
Salaam’s eighth studio album, Mediterranean Nights, to be released in November, will showcase the group’s newfound balance.
“We started recording an album to kind of show where we’re at 25 years into this project,” El Saffar says. “I feel like this CD is going to finally be the representation of the quartet we’ve been working with.”
Each Salaam member contributes multiple instruments to that sound. El Saffar, who founded the group in 1993, contributes violin, viola, vocals and oud, a short-necked lute. Moore, El Saffar’s husband, is the group’s primary percussionist. Lozano plays guitar and a medieval stringed instrument called the hurdy-gurdy. Cemali plays oud and the Turkish long-necked lute called the baglama.
To learn more, visit salaamband.com.