Fans of Arabic music, especially the emblematic kanoun, can take pride: the best player in the United States is one of our own, living in a comfortable bungalow in Fraser.
Originally from Damascus, Syria, the seventy-year-old Sarweh came first to Canada, a country which he believes produces the best wood in the world for kanoun-making, another skill which he has refined. His handcrafted instruments, which may take months to complete, sell for five thousand dollars and upwards.
The kanoun resembles a zither; it’s an ancestor of the harp, and in Arabic orchestras it fulfills the function of a piano. Essentially a wooden box with one angled side, it is an eighty-seven stringed instrument divided into three sections of twenty-nine tones. One of the most unusual features of the kanoun (alternately called quanun) is the skin of the bridge, which acts as a pressure release for the strings and which is traditionally made from sharkskin. Unlike most Western stringed instruments, the kanoun has mechanisms to raise or lower the string tones by eighth notes. Western scales do not contain such pitch changes.
John Sarweh is composer of a recent CD entitled Beauty of The East, an evocative and beautiful set of tunes with include performances by master musician Nadeem Dlaikan (nye) and Michigan Heritage Awardee Abdul Karim Badr (oud) and is available through Tradcat Productions.