Ishtar, the bewitching and bejeweled lead vocalist of the internationally acclaimed musical group Alabina, played to an enthusiastic and diverse crowd at Wolf Trap Wednesday night, offering a blend of Middle Eastern and Spanish flamenco rhythms and sounds.
Ishtar, who is of Egyptian and Moroccan parentage, delivered an intoxicating performance that included selections from Alabina's new "The Album II," sung in Spanish, English and Arabic and enhanced by her exotic belly dancing.
A nice feature of the 90-minute show was several stand-alone selections by Alabina's flamenco troupe, Los Ninos de Sara. These four cousins--lead singer Tonio, percussionist Coco and guitarists Santi and Ramon--have played together since they were 14 years old. The audience responded to their spirited flamenco sound by spontaneously dancing and cheering and vigorously waving their hands.
The combination of Ishtar and Los Ninos was the brainchild of a record producer who recognized the similarities between Arabic music and flamenco rhythms and decided to blend the two musical styles and cultures by creating Alabina. Over the past several years, Alabina, which means "God is with us" in Arabic, has produced several albums and has played to sold-out audiences worldwide.
In an interview before the Wolf Trap show, the sinewy, Israeli-born Ishtar, who speaks seven languages and served in the Israeli army as an airplane mechanic, said she learned to sing as a child when she lived with her grandmother, an Egyptian singer whom she calls her "spiritual mother."
"When I was little and inside my grandmother's house it was all classical Egyptian music, but once I went out that door it was pop, jazz, funk," said Ishtar, whose given name is Etty. She says of her music: "It's like a plate of red pepper, black pepper, salt and ginger, all mixed together, but in the right quantities--the music touches the sky and all kinds of people and cultures."