Sawaari takes FSU on a musical ride

By Robert Johnson Jr.

Arts & Features Editor

After a nice, long winter break, the Midday Performances series at FSU resumed with a workshop and a performance from the Boston-based band, Sawaari, for the penultimate concert in the series, Feb. 10.

The band comprises of five members – Fabio Pirozzolo (vocals and percussion), Jussi Reijonen (oud), Mike Rivard (sintir and double bass), Andy Bergman (saxophone, clarinet), and Amit Kavthekar (tabla), each of them with a diverse background just as diverse as their musical range. 

As 34 members of the FSU community sat in the audience, the band opened with “15,” a song that combined the melodies of Indian percussion with jazz-like compositional stylings. At some point in the song, it broke out into something similar to that of a rock number.

One of the biggest components of “15” comes from Kavthekar’s vocals, which open the song, but also appear in some spots in the middle. Combining this with his virtuosic banging on the tabla and a well-supported saxophone solo by Bergman, the band gave the audience a taste of what was to come in the performance.

The second song in their set was described by Pirozzolo as “a popular tune from Tunisia.” “Bahdha hbibti” wasted no time when it came to getting loud. 

With percussion reminiscent of a ballroom dance, “Bahdha hbibti” had a great emphasis on the percussive efforts of Pirozzolo and Kavthekar. Bergman’s saxophone playing brought the piece together, and Reijonen and Rivard traded solos with each other, truly making their interpretation of the song a collaborative and fun time.

“Both Ways,” the next song on the setlist, was one that “doesn’t come from any tradition but ours,” in the words of Pirozzolo. 

Boasting a prog rock-like time signature of 27/8, this song has “been through many versions” and had everything a listener could want – a soft opening reminiscent of a ride along the countryside, call-and-response sequences, virtuosic, quick playing from all five members, pitch changes, and a whole lot more.

This song’s spotlight was on the dynamic duo of Reijonen and Bergman, with a lengthy oud solo from Reijonen taking space in the middle, with a backing track accompanied by Bergman playing underneath it. However, once that solo concluded, Bergman got one of his own, making use of the brief motifs found earlier in the piece.

The fifth tune in the concert, “Lo Jocu di la palumbella,” came from the place of Pirozzolo’s native Calabria, Italy.

“I don’t know if you are familiar with Italian geography, but if you mention Italy as being ‘the boot,’ this tune and this dialect comes from the heel – the one that borders with Sicily,” Pirozzolo said.

He added, “The lyrics are like one of those southern Italian dramas where somebody falls in love with someone – in this case, this young girl falls in love for a young, handsome guy who wants to be a soldier.”

The song opened up with an introduction by Reijonen’s oud, but this opening passage also gave way to Pirozzolo’s passionate vocals in Italian. Once that introduction passed, Kavthekar and Rivard joined the fun, but Bergman jumped in after an intense percussive hit on the calabash by Pirozzolo, sending the song into a different, more serious tone than the opening initially let on.

Bergman’s saxophone work, complemented to Pirozzolo’s vocals, full of solo potential with Bergman taking advantage of two key moments, where his soloing was accompanied by the quick diddles of Kavthekar. As the song concluded, all of the instruments fell out, one-by-one, until Bergman remained.

The song that followed was a composition by Rivard called “5 of Swords,” a melody that, naturally, placed an emphasis on Rivard’s sintir techniques, with the occasional playing around with weird, unidentifiable time signatures from moment to moment.

Perhaps the most exciting bit for the audience came in the form of a “drum battle” between Kavthekar and Pirozzolo during the later parts of the song. 

The two traded technical blows back and forth to each other, but, as the other instruments played underneath this friendly duel of percussive proportions, the two men smiled at each other, making their chemistry known to the entranced audience.

After all that drumming and a song that got people to get up and dance, Sawaari’s ride came to an end with a selection called “Neqsha,” a slower-paced tune with lots of interaction among band members.

Bergman played on a flute-like instrument alongside Reijonen’s oud, playing a few of the opening passages together, but as the song went on, Bergman began to perform trills on the flute that Reijonen responded to in kind. 

Not one to go out slow, the band accelerated their way to the end with quick playing. And Kavthekar slapped the tablas furiously, one last time for the audience.

If you want to learn more about Sawaari, visit them on passim.org/artists/sawaari.

The final Midday Performance of the school year will take place April 13, in the Heineman Ecumenical Center at 1:30 p.m., with the Entwyned Ensemble.

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