Poetry and flamenco enliven Al-Andalus

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UConn’s very own Nicola Carpentieri and flamenco guitarist Oscar Herrero hosted “Al-Andalus: A Musical Journey” on Monday evening in Konover Auditorium.  File Photo/The Daily Campus

UConn’s very own Nicola Carpentieri and flamenco guitarist Oscar Herrero hosted “Al-Andalus: A Musical Journey” on Monday evening in Konover Auditorium. File Photo/The Daily Campus

Poetry and music often allow readers and listeners to be transported into the world of the composer. The rhyme and repetition create the artist’s world in the mind of an audience, and that is what occurred in Konover Auditorium Monday evening.  

During the performance “Al-Andalus: A Musical Journey,” University of Connecticut Professor Nicola Carpentieri and renowned flamenco guitarist Oscar Herrero used poetry and music to build the world of medieval Muslim Spain before the audience’s eyes. Between Carpentieri’s narration of the region’s history and recitation of poetry, Herrero played flamenco on his guitar. The combination of the two major art forms showed the audience how historical cultures mixed to create a rich literary and musical tradition.  

“We were also aware of the roots shared by both the literature of Al-Andalus and of flamenco music,” Carpentieri said. “Both of these have Arabic, Hebrew and early Spanish cultural strengths that mix and intertwine through their long coexistence in the Iberian Peninsula.” 

Carpentieri divided his readings into six “chapters,” each focusing on a different important poet.  

His first reading was from Abd al-Rahman’s “Ode to a Palm Tree.” Carpentieri used the poem’s themes of exile to narrate the history of the poet’s escape from Damascus in Syria to Cordoba in Spain.  


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“The first writer was Syrian, and I’m Syrian myself, so I resonated with that one the most because I knew the places that he had gone to,” Leena Haidar, a fifth-semester allied health major, said. 

Carpentieri transitioned to talking about Ziryab, a major poet, composer, singer and lutist. He brought an Arabian influence to Spain and established a music and dance academy in Cordoba.  

Other famous personages introduced were Judah Halevi, a Jewish poet who revolutionized Hebrew language by incorporating some Arab poetic influences, Wallada and Ibn Zaydún, lovers whose break-up inspired some of their best poetry, and Juan Ruiz, another innovative poet. 

“We just had a crash course through Al-Andalus and what folks were doing there musically, with poetry, arts and stuff like that,” Noah Radcliffe, a ninth-semester philosophy and history double major, said. “And Nico in there, he’s my professor in Arabic folktales right now, and he just does an incredible job reading from poetry.”  

In between Carpentieri’s poetic history and recitations, Herrero played flamenco on his guitar. He used various techniques to produce layered melodies that sounded cheerful, mysterious or mellow. The audience enjoyed Herrero’s playing and could be seen nodding their heads, tapping their feet or clapping along to his songs.  

The professor and the musician also mixed their talents. Herrero played in the background of several of Carpentieri’s recitations. At the end of the presentation, the two even performed a song that they had arranged together.  

Carpentieri stated that the goal of the performance was to demonstrate the influence of the various cultures in existence in the Iberian Peninsula at this time. The professor stated that he had originally been a bit frustrated with how to present the topic in an engaging way that people would want to interact with. He also expressed Herrero’s frustration over flamenco’s reputation as “a poorer cousin of classical guitar.”  

“This project began about a year ago, with a telephone call between Spain and Oman in which Oscar and I began to think of new ways to talk about the cultural heritage of Muslim Spain,” Carpentieri said. “We will journey through musical styles, songs and poems that shape this history of tolerance, coexistence and mutual admiration.”  

With a unique mix of poetry and flamenco, Carpentieri and Herrero demonstrated that the influence of these historical cultures can be brought to life once again. 


Stephanie Santillo is a senior staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at stephanie.santillo@uconn.edu.

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