Yes, Maqam! Brooklyn’s Arabic music group celebrates two year anniversary

Hanging out: A group of Arabic musicians jam at a recent Brooklyn Maqam Hang concert.
Photo by Shelley Thomas

They’re issuing a call to players!

A Brooklyn group that hosts a twice-monthly concerts of Arab music will celebrate its two-year anniversary during its Jan. 28 show. Brooklyn Maqam’s fortnightly events have helped unite the borough’s Arab and musical communities while also introducing locals to the Middle East’s soulful, microtonal melodies, said one organizer. 

“We just set it in motion and people in the community really loved it,” said Prospect Lefferts Gardens resident Brian Prunka, who founded Brooklyn Maqam with fellow musicians Marandi Hostetter and John Murchison. “Most of our events are completely sold out.” 

The group’s popular concert series Maqam Hang, at Sisters bar and restaurant in Clinton Hill, features a different Arabic music ensemble every two weeks, followed by an hour long “jam session,” when audience members can get on stage and play Arab standards together. The open sessions are more structured than the average improvisational jam session — musicians can pick up sheet music for beloved Middle Eastern tunes, and join other attendees to bring the songs to life. The system keeps the music diverse, and helps to bring in artists new to Arab music, said another co-founder. 

“There’s kind of an educational and preservationist aspect to it,” said John Murchison, of Clinton Hill. 

The three founders say they started the organization to unify the borough’s splintered Arab music scene and create a consistent space for musicians to get together. Each Arab band tended to operate in its own sphere, and their fans rarely interacted, said Murchison. 

“By having one event with lots of different artists, it’s helped connect these communities that overlap,” he said.  

They called the organization “Maqam” after the system of melodic tones used in Arab music. The title includes non-Arab music that also uses the maqam scale, including Persian and Turkish songs, said co-founder Prunka, and they hoped the foreign word would entice non-Arabs to learn more about the event. 

“By using a word people didn’t know we were hoping it would spark conversation,” Prunka said.  

The events have grown significantly over the last two years, and draw a diverse audience, including Arab old-timers, seasoned musicians, and young amateurs. The success of the series has prompted Prunka to think about hosting other types of Arab art events, he said. 

“At some point we might try to do some more multi-disciplinary events,” he said. 

Brooklyn Maqam’s two-year anniversary show on Jan. 28 will star Shelley Thomas and Brooklyn Takht, a group that performs songs from Egypt’s “Golden Era” singers from the early 1900s. 

Maqam Hang at Sisters [900 Fulton St. between Washington and Waverly avenues in Clinton Hill, (347) 763–2537, www.sistersbklyn.com]. Jan. 28 at 8 pm. $10.

An oud instrument: Taoufik Ben Amor played the oud at a Brooklyn Maqam concert at Roulette.Photo by Shelley Thomas