Blending cultures with music and compassion

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Blending cultures with music and compassion

Ronnie Malley plays the oud and is the primary vocalist for Lamajamal.

Ronnie Malley plays the oud and is the primary vocalist for Lamajamal.

Julia Lieb (‘21) | Chips

Ronnie Malley plays the oud and is the primary vocalist for Lamajamal.

Julia Lieb (‘21) | Chips

Julia Lieb (‘21) | Chips

Ronnie Malley plays the oud and is the primary vocalist for Lamajamal.

Julia Lieb, Staff Writer

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European and Middle Eastern culture, smooth woodwind riffs, and intricate improvisation define Lamajamal, a Chicago-based instrumental and vocal ensemble. Lamajamal brought their unique music style to the Center for Faith and Life (CFL) as a part of the Center Stage Series on Saturday, Feb. 24.

Lamajamal performed 15 songs from traditional to contemporary genres, including an Egyptian classic, “Balad Al Mahbub,” by Mohamed Abdel Waheb; a Bulgarian folk song “Gankino;” a Levantain folk medley “Ramallah;” and an original, “Schtunk.” Their musical style combines classical; folk; and sacred music of the Middle East, North Africa, Balkans, Turkey, Greece, and South Asia.

Attendee Mimi Armatas (‘19) appreciated the Greek influences present in many of the songs.

“I connected to the Greek music the most because I am half Greek, and I have listened to Greek dance music before,” Armatas said.

Established in 2004, Lamajamal is comprised of woodwind and santouri player Eve Monzingo, percussionist George Lawler, bassist Joseph Spilberg, and oud and accordian player Ronnie Malley

Each member is trained in multiple instruments and their cultural traditions, which informs their diverse repertoire.

The name of the ensemble is derived from the Arabic word “jamal,” which means “beauty.”

“[After performing together for many years], we realized we were forming our own lexicon, our own ability to access communities because we were able to speak to them in their own vernacular,” Malley said.

Spilberg hopes that the group’s diverse repertoire and attention to cultural detail interests audience members.

“We respect all music on a personal level,” Spilberg said.

Lamajamal travels around the world visiting the regions that inspire their music, including Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. They have performed at festivals; in renowned venues; in interfaith establishments; as well as at Christian, Jewish, and Muslim worship services.

“[Our mission] is to identify historical and social commonalities among different musical styles, cultures, and religions to create a sense of global citizenry,” Malley said.

Along with their performance as a part of the Center Stage Series, Lamajamal visited music classes, such as “History of Jazz” and “Post 1900 and World Music” on Feb. 22.

Professor of Music Juan Tony Guzman (‘90) praised the positive work that Lamajamal’s music has on a community like Luther.

“Their level of music-making is fantastic,” Guzman said. “Instead of dividing people, they are bringing people together.”

Guzman noted the group’s ability to combine different influences and ethnic traditions into a musical style.

“[Lamajamal’s] music speaks to our time, yet retains the flavor of their roots,” Guzman said. “Their music integrates old tradition with a modern sound.”

The members of Lamajamal hope that their music will inspire audiences to open their eyes and ears to non-Western styles of music.

“We hope our music stimulates students’ curiosity for the exploration of new musical styles and instruments,” Monzingo said.

Guzman appreciates Lamajaml’s dedication to spreading different genres of music around the world.

“Lamajamal is serving humanity by showing the diversity of musical differences,” Guzman said.

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