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Melding musical worlds with Seffarine

From Fez to Spain to Oregon, a "transcendent" evening of Moroccan and flamenco music at The Reser: A photo essay.


The ensemble Seffarine, performing at the Patricia Reser Center for the Arts, in Beaverton. From left: Manuel Guttierez, Damian Erskine, Lamie Naki, Nat Hulskamp, Bobak Salehi. All photos by Joe Cantrell.

“At a momentous first meeting at a coffee shop in Fez,” the group Seffarine declares on its website, “Moroccan vocalist Lamiae Naki and multi-instrumentalist Nat Hulskamp composed their first song and decided to get married.”

It might not be the usual way to start either a musical or a marital alliance, but it’s worked out very well. Gathering at what E.E. Bradman of Bass Player Magazine calls the “gorgeous intersection of Spanish flamenco, Arabic and Andalusian music, Persian classical, and jazz,” the ensemble nimbly explores the musical traditions of both sides of the Strait of Gibraltar with a culturally rooted yet thoroughly contemporary nod to the long period between the 9th and 15th centuries when Muslim, Jewish, and Christian cultures lived side by side and largely peacefully on the Iberian Peninsula, influencing one another’s cultures, including musically.

“Although we all have training in the traditional musical cultures represented in the group — Spanish flamenco, Persian classical, North African and Arab Andalusian — our music is a contemporary reflection of the centuries of exchange that happened at the mouth of the Mediterranean,” Hulskamp says. “Morocco and Spain — Africa and Europe — are only separated by a few miles at the Straits of Gibraltar, and of course this made Morocco a crossroad of Arabic, Iberian, Amazigh, Sephardic and West African music. Although Lamiae and I write the music, everyone in the group has learned a lot about each other’s traditions, which while giving color and texture to the music, also gives our originals a unified sound, rather than a patchwork.”

Naki was born in the old Moroccan city of Fez, where she began singing at an early age, learning Moroccan and flamenco music and eventually also studying classical Turkish singing in Istanbul. Hulskamp was born in Portland, where he began studying with acoustic guitar master Paul Chasman as a teenager. He soon began to study flamenco guitar as well, and then, in Morocco, the oud.

Rhythms are an integral part of the ensemble’s music-making: The name Seffarine comes from “the ancient metalworking square in Fez, which is famous for the complex rhythms that ring out from the blacksmiths’ hammers.”

Joining Naki and Hulskamp for a Friday evening performance April 21 at the Patricia Reser Center for the Arts in Beaverton were Persian instrumentalist Bobak Salehi (kamancheh, sehtar, violin, tar), bassist Damian Erskine, and flamenco dancer Manuel Gutierrez. Moroccan singers Randa Benaziz and Hanan Banzi joined the group for a pair of songs in its second set.

Seffarine, which is based in Portland but tours frequently, is on the road again after its Friday performance at The Reser. After a cross-country swing to Asheville, N.C., in early May, the group will return to the Northwest for guest appearances with flamenco star Antonio Rey in Portland May 18 and Seattle May 19, and a concert at The Jazz Station in Eugene on July 19.

Photographer Joe Cantrell was on hand to capture the sights and sounds at Seffarine’s Reser Center show. On an evening of sublime music (the concert was “transcendent,” Cantrell says; “my heart is still full”) here are a few of the things he heard and saw.

— The Editors

The Voices

Lamiae Naki, Seffarine’s lead singer, a native of the ancient Moroccan city of Fez.
Flamenco dancer and singer Manuel Gutierrez joins Lamiae Naki.
Instrumentalist Bobak Salehi joined in on the singing, too.
Lamiae Naki leans close into the microphone.

The Hands

Singer Lamiae Naki accompanies herself with hand-held rhythmic sounds.
Dancer Manuel Gutierrez employing the dramatic hand gestures of flamenco.
Lamiae Naki claps out the rhythm.
Hands in a blur as they slap out the beat.
Flamenco dancer Manuel Gutierrez spreads his arms and encompasses the room.

The Instruments

Bobak Salehi playing the narrow-necked Persian lute called the sehtar.
Bobak Salehi playing the Persian kamancheh, or spike fiddle.
Seffarine co-founder Nat Hulskamp on flamenco guitar.
Multi-instrumentalist Bobak Salehi on violin.

The Sounds

I spent my first 21 years in Tahlequah, Cherokee County, Oklahoma, assuming that except for a few unfortunate spots, ‘everybody’ was part Cherokee, and son of the soil. Volunteered for Vietnam because that’s what we did. After two stints, hoping to gain insight, perhaps do something constructive, I spent the next 16 years as a photojournalist in Asia, living much like the lower income urban peasants and learning a lot. Moved back to the USA in 1986, tried photojournalism and found that the most important subjects were football and basketball, never mind humankind. In 1992, age 46, I became single dad of my 3-year-old daughter and spent the next two decades working regular jobs, at which I was not very good, to keep a roof over our heads, but we made it. She’s retail sales supervisor for Sony, Los Angeles. Wowee! The VA finally acknowledged that the war had affected me badly and gave me a disability pension. I regard that as a stipend for continuing to serve humanity as I can, to use my abilities to facilitate insight and awareness, so I shoot a lot of volunteer stuff for worthy institutions and do artistic/scientific work from our Cherokee perspective well into many nights. Come along!

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