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RIFF: Playing with Liberation

May 21, 2023 @ 7:00 pm - 8:30 pm EDT

The improvisational release of the riff, played or spoken, embodies a taste of all that creative expression has to offer. It is an act of liberation, and often, of the joy that is found in that freedom. In this program, we welcome renowned Hungarian saxophonist Mihály Borbély. He is joined by accomplished poets Ariana Benson, Gaia Rajan, and City of Asylum writer-in-residence Rania Mamoun, who recently embraced a liberation of her own: shedding her pen-name and sharing her true identity as a writer with the world. 

About the Musician:

Mihály Borbély is a versatile multireedist musician working in different musical styles from folk and world music, to jazz and contemporary music. In addition to saxophones and clarinet, he also plays several folk instruments including the beautiful Hungarian tárogató. He has played at major folk, world music, and jazz festivals all over Europe as well as in the U.S., Mexico, and Australia. He has worked with great masters such as Paul Bley, Steve Coleman, Trilok Gurtu, Charles Lloyd, and many others. His awards include Best Soloist of the Karlovy Vary Jazz Festival, the Ferenc Liszt prize, Alto Saxophonist of the Year, Soprano Saxophonist of the Year, and Clarinetist of the Year (JazzMa, MagyarJazz), among others. Mihály leads several groups and projects under his name with musicians of similar spirit and taste. Teaching is an important element of Mihály’s musical philosophy. He is currently an associate professor at the Jazz Department of the Ferenc Liszt Academy of Music in Budapest where he was the chair between 1997 and 2000. His latest album, Miracles of the Night, was released at the end of last year.

Featured Musicians:

Soojin Park: percussion

Deanna Witkowski: piano 

Paul Thompson: bass

About the Poets:

Ariana Benson (she/they) was born in Norfolk, Virginia. Their manuscript, Black Pastoral, was selected by Willie Perdomo as winner of the 2022 Cave Canem Poetry Prize. A 2022 recipient of the Furious Flower Poetry Prize, Benson’s poems appear or are forthcoming in POETRY Magazine, Poem-a-Day, Ploughshares, The Yale Review, and elsewhere. Through her writing, she strives to fashion vignettes of Blackness that speak to its infinite depth and richness. Ariana’s debut collection, Black Pastoral, will be released in fall 2023.

Gaia Rajan (she/they) is the author of the chapbooks Moth Funerals and Killing It. Her second short collection is a razor-sharp interrogation of queer Asian American identity, intergenerational trauma, and the detritus of American achievement. Her work is published or forthcoming in Best New Poets 2022, the 2022 Best of the Net anthology, The Kenyon Review, THRUSH, Split Lip Magazine, diode, and elsewhere. Gaia is an undergraduate at Carnegie Mellon University studying computer science and creative writing. You can find her at @gaiarajan on Twitter or Instagram.

Rania Mamoun is a writer and Sudanese resistance committee activist. A 2010 International Prize for Arabic Fiction Nadwa participant, Rania has published two novels in Arabic, Flash Akhdar (Green Flash) and Ibn-al-Shams (Son of the Sun). She is the author of the short story collection 13 Sharen Min Isharaq al Shams (Thirteen Months of Sunrise), which was translated to English by Elisabeth Jaquette and shortlisted for the 2020 Warwick Prize for Women in Translation. Her writing has appeared in English translation in Mizna, for which she received a Pushcart Prize nomination, Shenandoah Literary Journal, Banipal Magazine, Words Without Borders, and The Fourth River. Her stories have appeared in translation in the collections The Book of Khartoum, Banthology, and Nouvelles du Soudan. In 2020, Rania completed her first poetry manuscript in Arabic and since then has published articles, poems, and short stories in Medameek, Al Baeed Magazine, Kikah Magazine, Al Araby UK, and Al Democrati, a Sudanese newspaper. Rania is a City of Asylum writer-in-residence since 2019. 

About Your Visit: 

Remember you can dine at the in-house restaurant 40 North before, during, or after the show. Please visit Open Table or call 412-435-1111 to make a reservation.

There will be a “Jazzy Hour” at the in-house bar from 6-7pm.

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May 21, 2023
7:00 pm - 8:30 pm EDT
Program Category:


Alphabet City
40 W. North Avenue
Pittsburgh,PA15212United States
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