Meet Rachid Halihal

Rachid Halihal with his Oud
Rachid Halihal holding his Oud.
Photo by Elizabeth Fulford Miller

This year we are lucky to have two specialist music groups for our Christmas Revels show. The Arab Andalus group of musicians is named Layali El Andalus and is led by Rachid Halihal.

Rachid is a world-class musician who brings, to us, the true character and spirit of music from Andalusian Spain, the diverse regions of Morocco, and North Africa. As a child, growing up in Morocco, Rachid played the nei and sang, imitating the famous singers of the time. At age fourteen he entered “Dar Aadyil” the Conservatory of Music in Fez. At first he studied Western classical and Andalus music on piano and violin. He soon expanded to include a variety of other instruments in order to better express his native music. In addition to his voice, which is best featured in the Andalus style, his strongest instruments are the oud (similar to a lute without frets) and the violin, which he plays in both the classical manner and upright resting on the knee for Moroccan folkloric music.

Layali El Andalus rehearsing with Tina Chancey and Elisabeth Myers
Layali El Andalus rehearsing with Tina Chancey and Elisabeth Myers. Photo by Elizabeth Fulford Miller

Rachid arrived this Friday evening¬† (November 25th) from Colorado, where he was presenting workshops and concerts in Boulder and Denver. Soon after his arrival he began rehearsing with local musicians Tina Chancey (you’ll hear more about her soon) and Elisabeth Myers–Tina and Elisabeth will be joining Layali El Andalus on a few of their songs, and the Washington Revels chorus will be singing with the group as well.

Learn more about Rachid by visiting his Web site (rachidhalihalmusic.com).¬† And, visit the Layali El Andalus band Web site to learn more about his group (ayalielandalus.com).¬† We are so excited to have them as part of this year’s Christmas Revels.

Revels Across the Country

Intermission at Sanders Theatre in Cambridge, 2009. Photo: Helen Fields

The Christmas Revels you get here in Washington is wonderful and unique, but it’s not the only Christmas Revels. We’re one of 10 Revels cities across the U.S. We’re all under a national Revels organization based in Cambridge, Mass. In addition to D.C. and Massachusetts, you can see The Christmas Revels in New Hampshire; New York; Houston; Boulder, Colo.; Tacoma, Wash.; Portland, Ore.; Oakland, Calif.; and Santa Barbara.

The Revels cities share scripts and major prop pieces. In 2008, someone drove a van up to Cambridge to get the flying canoe for our French Canadian production. Our show this year, Andalusian Treasures, is based on the show that Portland did last year. This year, Portland is visiting medieval England with “The King and the Fool,” which we last did in 2004.

I’ve been lucky enough to see productions in two other Revels cities. Washington’s performances are among the earliest, so it’s possible to sing in eight performances here, then travel to other cities and celebrate with them. In 2009, I went to Boston with my parents to see a version of the American show we did in 2006. It was fascinating to see another city’s take on a show I knew so well.

The lobby in Oakland, 2010. Photo: Helen Fields

I particularly envied their performance space. The Cambridge production is in Sanders Theatre, this absolutely gorgeous wood-paneled hall at Harvard University. They don’t have the things you would expect in a theater, like a curtain, and it does not matter at all. Then when the audience joins hands and dances out of the theater at the end of the first half, for “Lord of the Dance,” they end up winding back and forth in this lobby with extremely high ceilings and, generally, an enchanted historical feel. The California Revels, in Oakland, has a similarly gorgeous hall, the Oakland Scottish Rite Center.

Lisner Auditorium, our Christmas Revels home since 1983, is more cavernous than intimate. The lobby doesn’t have that warm, cozy, Revels-y ambience I felt in Cambridge and Oakland. Also, we have to worry about electric shocks from feet shuffling along the carpet during “Lord of the Dance.” (Tip: Pick up your feet.) But it’s been a wonderful home, and I’m excited to be moving in there tonight for my seventh Christmas Revels tech week.

Learn more about the 2011 Christmas Revels: Andalusian Treasures
View the Schedule of Performances and Purchase Tickets