How Spanish soprano Isabel Canada Luna is channelling the best of Arabic and Andalusian culture through song

Her concert at Alliance Francaise Dubai features historical poetry composed in Spain reimagined through music

A lot has been written about the cultural links between Andalusia and the Arab world. However, you don’t have to visit a museum or conduct hefty research books to discover them.

As Spanish soprano Isabel Canada Luna puts it, sometimes all you need is to turn on the radio.

"As someone who is not from the region but who sees similarities in cultures and understands music, a lot of Arabic popular music has influence from Andalusia," she says, citing a 1996 Amr Diab hit as an example.

"The song Nour El Ain really shows that link, particularly in the rhythm. The way the rhythm and percussion is structured is very much influenced by Spanish and Andalusian music."

Luna aims to showcase more of these connections in a Dubai concert on Thursday, April 8.

Held at the theatre in Alliance Francaise Dubai, An Arab-Andalusian Night will feature poetry written during the 700-year period (711-1492), when Spain was under Muslim rule.

Backed by Dubai musicians, Polish pianist Magdalena Wajdzik, US violinist Crosby Barrett and Syria's Inas Halal on percussion, Luna will present Spanish translated works by 9th and 10th century poets Muqaddam Ibn Muafa Al Qabri and Wallada Bint Al Mustakfi, complete with new musical arrangements.

These pieces will be also paired with poems from 19th century Spanish writers Federico Lorca and Isidoro Hernandez.

Starting from scratch

With the concept premiering in Dubai's Alserkal Avenue in December 2020, Luna recalls how the musicians spent a majority of the year working on the programme.

When it comes to selecting the material, Luna says she worked with academics and translators from both Spain and the UAE to make the final choices.

As for the music, the group initially approached the work with a certain trepidation.

“These writers are great and have a lot of history,” she says. “And their poetry was not written with music in mind, so we had to create everything from scratch.”

The group decided the best way to tackle the pieces was in chronological order, which is also the way the programme will be presented on Thursday.

“This definitely gave us a certain structure,” she says. “What we are trying to do really is to present a complete fusion of both worlds. When it comes to the poetry, we had it translated in such a way that it even rhymes in Spanish.

“As for the music, we use different instruments to complement the period in which the poetry was created.”

Luna says her vocal performance will be suitably varied in style. “I am trying to create as many colours as I can,” she says.

“At the beginning, I start from a position that is similar to flamenco and then it develops, and I change and mix it up and sing in a more classical music direction.”

The things in common

With Ramadan likely to begin on Monday, April 12, Luna says the timing of the show is incidental.

However, she is glad the concert’s message of tolerance and co-existence compliments the onset of the holy month.

It will also serve as a vindication to friends and colleagues in Spain who expressed reservations about Luna’s move to the UAE five years ago.

At the time, she was an already accomplished performer with appearances in Madrid's Teatro Real and Germany's Konzerthaus Berlin and the Berliner Philharmonie.

"When I finally came here to Dubai, I didn't know what to expect. But I found this country is more tolerant than many other places that I have been to," she says.

It is a message Luna intends to preserve on record and take to the masses. She confirms that an album version of the project is on the way, with UAE recording sessions set to take place later in the year.

An Arab-Andalusian Night will also go on the road with a European tour in the works and a special September performance in the heart of Andalusia itself: the Casa Arabe cultural centre in Cordoba, Spain.

“That is going to be a really special evening and it will be great to show people in Spain and other places the commonalities between our cultures,” Luna says.

“Sometimes, we spend so much time trying to find the differences in each other instead of things that connect us.”

An Arab-Andalusian Night is on April 8 at Alliance Francaise Dubai, Oud Metha; 7.30pm. Tickets for Dh120 are available at www.adfubai.org