Family’s Middle East music & dance program filmed for documentary

by Kate Evans

TarabRaqs, a Berkeley Springs family’s Middle Eastern music and dance ensemble, will be featured again in a second mini-documentary filmed and produced by the Middle Eastern Broadcast Network (MBN), a U.S. State Department-funded Arabic-language news organization located in Washington, D.C.

MBN film crews came to the home of TarabRaqs band members Jennifer Carpenter-Peak (Jensuya), husband Bob Peak and sons Dakota and Lhasa Peak on October 16 to interview and film them. Crews also filmed the first day of their October 17-18 intensive Paw Paw Schools student workshops on Middle Eastern dance, music and culture which were sponsored by the Morgan Arts Council. The mini-documentary is set to be released in January.

The Middle Eastern Broadcasting Network (Alhurra Television and Radio Sawa) is one of five U.S. civilian international broadcast networks that include the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. MBN reaches a weekly audience of more than 25.7 million viewers in 22 countries in the Middle East and North Africa.

Alhurra TV produced a two-part mini-documentary on TarabRaqs four years ago which was broadcast to more than 24 million viewers.

TarabRaqs has been spreading their passion for Middle Eastern dance, music and culture at festivals, special events, concerts, restaurants, libraries, after-school programs and schools and universities since 2004. The family has combined their love of travel and the arts and culture of the region to create programs and events for those that may not have a chance to travel there and experience it.

“It’s a joy. We love to bring it to others,” said Carpenter-Peak in a phone interview.

The family has done interactive school performances across the region since around 2008 sharing the geography, history, music, dress, language, dance and culture in her lessons with enthusiastic audiences, including Morgan County Schools arts integration programs sponsored by the Morgan Arts Council.

At their more intensive Paw Paw Schools k-12 workshops this October, students also learned some Arabic language- speaking numbers, greetings and other words- sang Middle Eastern melodies and clapped beats and riveting rhythms, and learned basic dance steps of the debke.

Carpenter-Peak has been also teaching belly dance and Mediterranean folk dance accompanied by her husband at area workshops and in videos on their YouTube channel since 2015.

TarabRaqs history

Carpenter-Peak and her husband were living and working in successful careers in Washington, D.C. in 1993 — he as a graphic designer and she as a mechanical engineer. Bob Peak read about a couple that had traveled all over the world by bicycle and the Peaks decided to leave their careers for six months and do the same.

Their bicycle journey turned into a four-year trip that took the couple to Morocco, Tunisia and Turkey where they were mesmerized by the Middle Eastern culture and its stirring music and rhythms which really resonated with them, said Carpenter-Peak.

When they returned to the United States in 1997, they’d been transformed by their travels and moved here to get away from city life. Carpenter-Peak took a belly-dancing workshop at Coolfont and fell in love with the dancing.

Bob Peak went to the renowned Arabic Music Retreat in Massachusetts and formed TarabRaqs with two musicians he met there and his wife. Their sons Dakota and Lhasa, who’d been immersed in Middle Eastern music and culture,   joined TarabRaqs at an early age when the other musicians left the band to pursue different interests.

Bob Peak chose the band’s name TarabRaqs, which comes from the Arabic word Tarab meaning the spiritual ecstasy one feels when listening to music, Carpenter-Peak said. Raqs is the traditional Arabic word for dance. Together TarabRaqs means the spiritual ecstasy of music and dance.

Instruments they play

Bob Peak was an award-winning trumpet player in high school and played in a 10-piece band at 17, but gave up music for graphic design until he later learned to play a number of Middle Eastern instruments.

Peak plays the mizmar, a double-reed instrument; the riq, which resembles a tambourine and a variety of hand drums including the doumbek and the beledi, which is like a bass drum.

Dakota Peak plays the oud –an ancient Persian guitar-like instrument — and the saz — a stringed Turkish instrument. Lhasa Peak plays the acoustic and electric bass, which puts a modern spin to their music. Carpenter-Peak plays the finger cymbals called zils.

Their mission

TarabRaqs’ mission is to share the music, dance and cultural of the Middle East and to bridge the cultural gap by showing what we have in common and what connects us as people.

“We all love music. We love to dance and try new things,” she said of humanity.

TarabRaqs focuses on the music and rhythm, the folk dance and belly dance and the fun and joyous aspects of the Middle Eastern culture they’ve experienced, Carpenter-Peak said.

“Their rhythms are so interesting and exciting that everyone just starts to clap,” she said.

It’s been extremely fulfilling for her and family, whom she described as “grassroots cultural ambassadors from the other side,” to present the arts of a region of the world that’s been heavily maligned and misunderstood, Carpenter-Peak said. Not many Americans know much about the Middle East.

People were friendly, welcoming and “the same as us” in Morocco, Tunisia and Turkey where they’ve returned several times and jammed and danced with local musicians.

Bob Peak created a mini-documentary called “Musicians of Morocco,” which can be found on TarabRaqs’ website along with links to the two-part Alhurra Television mini-documentary from several years ago.

Carpenter-Peak said she loves dancing and dancing with her family and seeing how much fun kids and families and people of all ages have at their performances.

Tarab Raqs has a December 15 belly dance workshop at the Ice House and November 17 and December 8 belly dance shows at Alfredo’s Mediterranean Grille in Charles Town.