Gordon Grdina’s The Marrow – Ejdeha (Songlines Recordings, 2018)
Ejdeha presents the Middle Eastern music side of Canadian guitarist and ud player Gordon Grdina. Here, Grdina focuses on the ud in a set of ud solos and improvisations supported by mesmerizing daf frame drum and acoustic bass, along with cello. The album combines remarkable improvisation with tight ensemble interplay.
The lineup on Ejdeha includes Gordon Grdina on ud; Mark Helias on bass; Hank Roberts on cello; and Hamin Honari on tombak and daf.
The Long March by Le Trio Joubran is the number one album in the March 2019 Transglobal World Music Chart. Le Trio Joubran features three Palestinian brothers who are ud masters: Samir, Wissam and Adnan.
Anouar Brahem was born in 1957 in Halfawine in the Medina of Tunis. Encouraged by his father, an engraver and printer, and music lover as well, Brahem began his studies of the ud (Arab lute), at the age of 10 at the Tunis National Conservatory of Music, where his principal teacher was the ud master Ali Sriti.
An exceptional student, by the age of 15 Brahem was playing regularly with local orchestras. At 18, he decided to devote himself entirely to music. From 1981 to 1985, Brahem lived and studied in Paris, seeking out points of congruence with other cultures. He was, nonetheless, first heard on disc with an all-Tunisian trio on Barzakh (ECM 1432) in 1991. This was followed by the collaboration with Norwegian saxophonist Jan Garbarek and the late Pakistani tabla master Shaukat Hussain on Madar (ECM 1515) and by an album reworking, with an international cast, music Brahem had written for the Tunisian cinema.
In 1985, he returned to Tunis and an invitation to perform at the Carthage festival provided him with the opportunity of bringing together, for “Liqua 85”, outstanding figures of Tunisian and Turkish music and French jazz. These included Abdelwaheb Berbech, the Erköse [Barbaros Erkose] brothers, François Jeanneau, Jean-Paul Celea, François Couturier and others. The success of the project earned Brahem Tunisia’s Grand National Prize for Music.
In 1987, he became the director of the Musical Ensemble of the City of Tunis. Instead of keeping the large existing orchestra, he broke it up into variable size ensembles, giving it new orientations: one year in the direction of new creations and the next more towards traditional music.
On the recording of Khomsa, his partners were Tunisian violinist Bechir Selmi, Swedish bassist Palle Danielsson, Norwegian drummer Jon Christensen, and three musicians from France – accordionist Richard Galliano, keyboardist Frangois Couturier, and saxophonist Jean Marc Larche. Although Dave Holland and John Surman both contributed compositional material to Thimar, Brahem’s following album,most of the writing stems from Brahem’s pen.
Two of the pieces were written originally for the Musical Ensemble of Tunis, two more for the Tunisian Theatre, and one originated as a sketch for the Khomsa ensemble. The majority of the music, however, was prepared specifically for the Thimar session. Dave Holland: “I hadn’t known what to expect. Anouar gave us a pile of music the day before the session. There were no bar lines – and of course there were no chords, because that’s not a reference point in this music. But there were these complex melodies, and one phrase might have seven beats in it, and another phrase nine. And when John and I started to play this, at first we were stumbling all over ourselves. But we persevered, put some pencil marks on the music, talked about how to approach the structures… At the session, things started to fall into place, as they so often do. The moment impresses itself upon you, and you rise to the occasion. Bringing these traditions together is by no means simple, and I think what we ended up with is music that has real value.”
As was the case with Kenny Wheeler’s Angel Song, the drummerless music of Thimar places special responsibilities on Dave Holland to shoulder most of the rhythm duties. The demands seem to bring forth some of his finest playing. “With John and Anouar, although my main function was to be accompanist and rhythm player, I felt I was getting support from both of them because of their ability to maintain a sense of rhythm independently…” Holland was invited into the session after producer Manfred Eicher played Brahem Angel Song. Brahem: “I listened to that album following the bass. It’s like the heartbeat of the music. And Dave’s sound is so beautiful. Powerful, but rounded, not at all aggressive or harsh.” The ud player first became aware of John Surman’s music with the release of the solo album Road To St. Ives in 1990. “This extraordinary sense of melody that John has. ..I liked that so much. It touched me very deeply. Since then, I’ve listened to everything he’s done.”
In 1994, Surman and Brahem toured Japan together but separately, playing opposite each other in concerts to mark ECM’s 25th anniversary. “We got to know each other and got along well and talked then about making a record one day. His playing on all his instruments is exceptional, but I especially like the blending of the bass clarinet and the ud. The wood in the sound makes it a very satisfying combination, I think. “I was really impressed with the engagement of both Dave and John in the making of this album. Collaborations of this kind can be quite…dangerous. Sometimes musicians of different cultures meet only superficially. But they were both concerned to get to the essence of the music.”
In 1995, Brahem released Khomsa, featuring Richard Galliano, Bechir Selmi and François Couturier. This was followed by 1998’s Thimar with John Surman and Dave Holland.
The Astrakan Café album came out in 2000 as Anouar Brahem Trio with Barbaros Erköse and Lassad Hosni.
In 2002, Brahem released Le Pas du Chat Noir, recorded with François Couturier and Jean-Louis Matinier, followed by
2006’s Le Voyage de Sahar withe the ame lineup.
In 2009, The Astounding Eyes of Rita came out. Lineup: Klaus Gesing, Björn Meyer and Khaled Yassine.
Souvenance was released in 2014, recorded with Francois Couturier, Klaus Gesing and Björn Meyer.
Anouar Brahem released Blue Maqamns in 2017 with Jack DeJohnette, Dave Holland and Django Bates.
Tunisian composer and oud maestro is set to perform on Friday, March 15, 2019 at Barbican Hall in London. The concert draws together Brahem’s profound insight into Arab music alongside his fascination with a broader canvas. Here he will present material from his latest recording Blue Maqams (ECM), alongside pianist Django Bates, drummer Nasheet Waits and virtuoso bassist Dave Holland.
Pianist Kit Downes will present the opening set with music from his upcoming ECM album, Obsidian, in duo with saxophonist Tom Challenger, linking into the 50th anniversary of ECM Records. Downes has developed a fascinating approach to music for solo pipe organ and solo piano. His current work includes collaborations with cellist Lucy Railton, composer Shiva Feshareki, the band ‘ENEMY’, and violinist Aidan O’Rourke.
The Best of Folk Music Group Anatolia is a compilation that includes recordings from Anatolia’s previous three albums: Folk Songs and Dance Music of Turkey and the Arab World (1996), Lost Songs of Palestine (2001), and Middle Eastern Songs and Dances for Children (2005).
Anatolia is a world music group led by American multi-instrumentalist Edward J. Hines, whose goal is to preserve the folk,classical and dance music traditions of the Middle East.
The Best of Folk Music Group Anatolia presents a fascinating overview of the rich and varied folk traditions of Turkey and the Arab world, using a wide spectrum of traditional musical instruments performed by Hines and his collaborators.
Even if you don’t speak the language, the popular Turkish children’s song “Ali Baban’ın Çiftliği” reels you in right away with its catchy hooks. It’s a lot of fun, featuring various mimicked farm animal sounds.
The lineup includes Edward Hines on ‘ud, divan sazi, kaval, clarinet, zurna, buzuq, cura, sipsi, ocarina and vocals); Taner Okatan on saz, baglama, divan sazi, percussion and vocals; Michel Moushabeck on percussion and vocals; Jamal Sinno on kanun; Jenny Killgore on violin, kasik and vocals; Bruce Rawan on kanun; Mohammed Mejaour on nay, percussion and vocals; Saied Khoury on violin, buzuq, ud and vocals; and V. Tailan Yildiz on accordion.
Simon Shaheen is one of the most significant Arab musicians, performers, and composers of his generation. His work incorporates and reflects a legacy of Arabic music, while it forges ahead to new frontiers, embracing many different styles in the process. This unique contribution to the world of arts was recognized in 1994 when Shaheen was honored with the prestigious National Heritage Award.
In the 1990s he released four albums of his own: Saltanah (Water Lily Acoustics), Turath (CMP), Taqasim (Lyrichord), and The Music of Mohamed Abdel Wahab (Axiom), while also contributing cuts to producer Bill Laswell’s fusion collective, Hallucination Engine (Island). He arranged and re-recorded the smash remake of the Latin singer Soraya’s song, “I’m Yours,” released on the compilation Desert Roses and Arabian Rhythms.
He has contributed selections to soundtracks for The Sheltering Sky and Malcolm X, among others, and has composed the entire soundtrack for the United Nations-sponsored documentary, For Everyone Everywhere. Broadcast globally in December 1998, this film celebrated the 50th anniversary of the United Nations Human Rights Charter.
Shaheen: Tradition and Creativity – A Heritage without Boundaries
Story by Kay Hardy Campbell (From the ARAMCO WORLD MAGAZINE May/June 1996. Reproduced by courtesy of Aramco World Magazine)
All day the Brooklyn Museum had rung with the rhythms of Arab musicians, the verses of poets and the background buzz of crowds in conversation. So when Simon Shaheen appeared on stage late in the afternoon, the quiet that settled around him was his audience’s way of acknowledging a special maestro. Shaheen ran this fingers through his dark wavy hair, lifted his violin and bow and locked eyes with each of the 16 musicians in his Near Eastern Music Ensemble.
Inspired by the Arab-American music and dance festivals that flourished from the 1930’s to the 1950’s, Shaheen organized last fall’s Mahrajan al-Fan, or festival of art, a weekend extravaganza of Arab-American culture. Booths from Arab restaurants, henna-painting lessons, folk dance, and a show of traditional Arab costumes framed performances by Arab-American musicians, poets, authors, filmmakers, and scholars. They came to Brooklyn from around the country to give visitors and each otheran exciting vision of the Arab cultures of their homelands, from Morocco to the Arabian Peninsula.
But as Simon Shaheen drew his bow into the haunting measures of his best-known composition, “Sama’i Kurd Shaheen,” his role as festival organizer and fundraiser fell away, and the hall was filled with the musical gifts that have made 40-year-old Shaheen one of the brightest, fastest rising stars in Arab music.
Shaheen’s musical journey began, in a sense, even before he was born in Tarshiha, in the Galilee. His family was full of instrumentalists and singers.
“My grandfather was the principal singer in the church, and he also sang the classical Arab music repertoire,” he says. Shaheen’s father, Hikmat Shaheen, was a well-known player of the ‘ud the pear-shaped, short-necked, fretless forerunner of the European lute as well as a composer, educator, and founder of two regional orchestras.
At seven Shaheen began eight years of study of western classical music in Haifaby age 12 his father had him help run the orchestra. “I did all the rehearsals and arranged everything, while he supervised,” Shaheen says.
And at night, he says, the family would listen to the radio, where the airwaves were full of great Arab music, for those were the days of the famous Thursday-night broadcasts on Egyptian Radio’s “Voice of the Arabs.” The whole Arab world came to a halt to hear Umm Kalthum sing live full-length concerts to the big orchestral compositions of Riyad al-Sunbati, Mohamed Abdel Wahhab and others.
Umm Kalthum “used to come on the air on the first Thursday of each month,” Shaheen recalls with a smile. “I always remembered much of any new song she sang. The next morning I would hum the introduction and different parts for my father, and he would notate them.”
Shaheen went on to earn his bachelor’s degree in literature and music from the Academy of Music in Jerusalem, where he later taught. Yet “my real education,” he says, “was working with my father.”
Since he came to the United States in 1980 to pursue graduate studies in music, of course Simon Shaheen has made New York City his base for both the preservation of traditional Arab music and the exploration of artistic frontiers. Now, he is increasingly regarded as one of the most dynamic musical links between the Arab world and the West.
A fast-paced concert schedule brings him and the Near Eastern Music Ensemble to stages throughout North America and Europe. He is a master teacher of the ‘ud and violin as well as a popular lecturer. He composes both alone and in collaboration with others. But most important, Shaheen is increasingly looked upon as an inspiration.
“He has so much love for Arab music that you cannot escape it,” says ensemble soloist Ghada Ghanim. “Even if you are in the audience or just passing by, his enthusiasm will grab you!”
As a performer on both violin and ‘ud, Shaheen conquers complex phrases with mesmerizing frenzy and caresses others with quiet tenderness. He draws from a deep well of technique, applies it creatively, and metes out expression in deliberately tantalizing measure.
In 1994 Shaheen was awarded one of 11 National Heritage Fellowship Awards for outstanding contributions to traditional music. The New York Daily News has called his interpretations “some of the most sublime Arab music to be heard this side of the Dead Sea.” In February, he played a concert of traditional and original music as part of Lincoln Center’s Great Performers series.
Shaheen “combines technique with feeling,” says ethnomusicologist, composer and performer Ali Jihad Racy (See Aramco World, September/October 1995). “He is the product of two traditions. Conservatory-trained, he has one foot in western classical music, the other at the center of the Arab musical tradition. This is very unusual.”
Shaheen is also a master of taqasim, or improvisations. Arab instrumentalists use taqasim to explore a maqam, a scale or mode, with a series of musical phrases that the performer strings like pearls on a strand of pauses. Shaheen’s improvisations “invoke all the possible wealth of the maqam and rhythm,” says poet and musician Mansour Ajami. In a collaborative 1983 recording titled Taqasim, Shaheen playfully traded improvisation on the ‘ud with Racy on the buzuq, the ‘ud’s long-necked cousin.
Likewise, modal shifts and unexpected rhythmic phrases fill his popular compositions, such as “Sama’i Kurd Shaheen.” The resulting level of invention within traditional form is unrivaled among today’s composers. In its third verse he changes the maqam an astonishing six times, and only at the very last moment does he bring the melody back to kurd, the “home” maqam for which the piece is named. In the last verse, he bursts out of the base 10/8 rhythm, not into the sama’i’s traditional 3/4 or 6/8 closing rhythm, but into what proves to be a thrilling, unusual 7/8.
Shaheen’s traditional arrangements and compositions appear on two recordings. The Music of Mohamed Abdel Wahab is Shaheen’s tribute to the late Egyptian composer and consists largely of Shaheen’s orchestrations of Abdel Wahhab’s music. “Turath” (“Heritage”) is Shaheen’s compilation of classical Arab ensemble music. The Library of Congress named it one of the outstanding traditional recordings of 1992. By late 1995, Shaheen had three further recordings in progress.
Ever since he was a boy, Shaheen’s artistic openness and gregarious personality have propelled him across cultural boundaries, and in New York, he has delighted in the city’s trove of artistic possibilities. “I have preserved my artistry, the traditional Arab and western classical repertoire, in New York,” he says. “At the same time, I’ve been exposed to many ideas. I have met many musicians in New York who have widened my perspective.”
He is one of several jazz artists who make up the experimental fusion group Material, which appears on the Axiom label. Rolling Stone called Material’s 1994 Hallucination Engine. “One groovy om of exhilaration and release.” Shaheen left a strong imprint on the group’s “The Hidden Garden/Naima”, and “Ruins,” both of which blended Arabic vocals and instrumentals with western rock, jazz and classical elements. Another fusion recording, with Indian slide guitarist Vishwa Bhatt and titled Saltanah, is forthcoming on the Water Lily Acoustics label.
As a teacher of students of both Arab and non-Arab backgrounds, Shaheen reaches out to help them grasp the sensibility and structure of Arab music. William Nakhly, the Galilee-born conductor of Boston’s Middle East Orchestra and Chorus, pursuing a doctorate of music in the United States, says that he and many other young Palestinian musicians emulate Shaheen’s ensemble concepts. They collect tapes of his rehearsals and his live performances, he says, to study his work more closely.
“I think Simon is having a great impact,” says Racy. “The culture needs a role model who combines tradition, authenticity and creativity, someone who combines roots with innovation. Simon thinks deeply about his music. He has true sensitivity to it as a culture, as a legacy, as a message, and he is conscious of the importance of this musical message.”
The coming years will no doubt see Shaheen’s work bear further fruit as his global audience widens. Two sold-out concerts in January in Haifa, played in honor of his father, featured his recent compositions, “Long Kurd Shaheen” and “Al Cantra.” His debut in Lebanon, scheduled for this year, will mark the fulfillment of his personal dream to perform, at last, in Beirut.
Beyond recording and composing, Shaheen is exploring the possible foundation of an Arab arts institute in New York. But his greatest hope, he says, is to make music “that people will view as sincere and without boundaries.” Music “should become the heritage, the turath, of whatever community you belong to. For music to be truly successful, it has to be within the realm of turath.”
As Shaheen carries his reinvigorated legacy to a new generation, it is easy to imagine he will reach his goal.
What to Listen For: Simon Shaheen has some advice for those listening to Arab music for the first time. “Think with your voice when you listen to Arab music. It has a linear quality like the voice. Concentrate on its melodies, and listen to how they interact with the rhythm. Arab music is characterized by the use of quarter-tones, which lie between the half-steps of western music. They have a quality that you may not be able to hear at first. Don’t think of them as out-of-tune notes. They are deliberate. The more you listen, the more you will begin to hear them and come to love them, for it is the quarter-tones which distinguish many beautiful maqams in Arabic music.”
Wissam Joubran was born in 1983, and was introduced very young to ud by his brother Samir. He attended numerous local and international festivals, among them the Printemps de Palestine, in France in 1997.
He has inherited of his father’s vocation, a stringed-instrument maker master, and is strikingly talented in improvising and creating clever and appropriate transitions between the Arabic Maqams.
Wissam was the first string-instrument maker from the Arabic world to enter the Antonio Stradivari Institute (Italy) in order to bring his knowledge to perfection. Samir and Wissam started to go on tour outside of the Middle East on August 2002, and their reputation never stopped to grow while they performed in Europe, Canada and Brazil.
Nizar Rohana is a Palestinian ud player living in the Netherlands. He stands out for bringing together virtuosity within fresh contemporary compositions, while maintaining the ud’s authentic language.
He was born in the village of ‘Isifya on Mount Carmel, near Haifa city, to a father who played ud in communal celebrations. His mother accompanied him on percussion. From a young age, Rohana played music, picking up the ud when he was 13.
After extensive studies in ud performance, composition, and musicology, Rohana immersed himself in developing contemporary ud compositions, taking inspiration from Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin and Brahms all the way to Tanburi Cemil Bey, Kemani Tatyus Efendi, Muhammad Al-Qasabji and Muhammad Abdel Wahab.
In 2001 he was awarded a Bachelor of Music and Arts (specialized in ud performance and musicology) from the Arabic Music Department of the Jerusalem Academy for Music and Dance and the Musicology Department of the Hebrew University. For some time he then focused his work on the music of the great Egyptian composer Muhammad Al-Qasabji, completing his Master’s degree in 2006.
Since September 2013, Rohana has been based in The Netherlands, pursuing his PhD in improvisation and composition in solo ud performance at Leiden University Academy for Creative and Performing Arts. He is working under the supervision of Prof. Joep Bor, Prof. Frans De Ruiter and Dr. Anne Van Oostrum, as part of the doctoral program designed for musician-researchers, docARTES.
As a performer, Rohana’s wide-ranging stage experience as a soloist and within groups encompasses playing traditional, modern, experimental, and world music. During the last years, he performed in countries such as Japan, Morocco, Egypt, Turkey and in the USA and Europe, releasing his first album Sard (Narration) in May 2008.
In 2013 he formed his own trio together with Hungarian double bass player Matyas Szandai, and French-Lebanese percussionist Wassim Halal, releasing their debut album Furat (Euphrates) in 2016.
In 2015, Rohana was invited by the acclaimed Dutch bass player Tony Overwater to participate in the music recordings for the IKON documentary series ‘Om de Oude Wereldzee’ (‘Around the Ancient World Sea’), based on the travels of Dutch politician Abraham Kuyper. In 2016, Overwater and Rohana formed the Rohana-Overwater Ensemble together with the Dutch clarinetist Maarten Ornestein; Tunisian violinist and viola d’amore player Jasser Haj Youssef and Jordanian percussionist Nasser Salameh.
Between 2001 and 2007 Rohana was one of the main ud and music theory teachers at the Edward Said National Conservatory in Jerusalem, Ramallah and Bethlehem, and in 2006 he also worked as the deputy for academic affairs.
Ud player, composer and teacher Issa Boulos was born in Jerusalem, Palestine, 1968. Issa Boulos comes from a family of both musical and literary traditions and began to study voice at the age of 7. At that early age, Issa showed extraordinary talent in singing Arab classical maqam repertoire. At the age of 13 he entered the Institute of Fine Arts in Ramallah to study the ‘ud with Abu Raw`hi ‘Ibaidu. He graduated in 1985 and worked in Ramallah as an arranger of folksongs and a musician in the ensemble of Sariyyat Ramallah Dance Group and Released al-‘Ashiq in 1986, and in al-Ra`hh’la, with composer Jamil al-Sayih and Released Rasif al-Madinah in 1989.
During the 1990s, under the influence of newly developed musical trends, Boulos’s career took a new direction. He pursued music composition in response to a contemporary concern for revolutionary cultural change and richer and more flexible responses to widely different dramatic requirements. He adopted the performance practices, educational principles and aesthetic values of Western art music while adapting his art to suit the sensibilities of Palestinian politicized taste and maintained a link with the maqam tradition by continuing its ancient line of oral transmission. From 1991 to 1993, Issa composed over 200 instrumental and vocal pieces and one large-scale work titled Kawkab Akhar.
He was appointed director of Birzeit University’s musical group Sanabil in addition to training Al- Funoun Popular Dance Troupe and Sareyyet Ramallah Troupe for Music and Dance. This era was the most experimental, challenging and yet prolific. It laid out conventional and modern compositional devices as abstract tools rather than absolute. His fascination with music towards higher levels of expression and interpretation encouraged him to examine other aspects of sound, and simultaneously broaden his artistic perspective, which was substantiated by the increasing number of questions concerning music making.
In 1994 he moved to Chicago, where he studied music composition at Columbia College Chicago with Gustavo Leone and Athanasios Zervas and later at Roosevelt University with Robert Lombardo and Ilya Levinson. In 1998 he co-founded the Issa Boulos Quartet, performing his original contemporary compositions that ranged from classical Arab compositions to jazz. After completing his Masters in 2000, he spent one year in his hometown where he was active as a composer, educator, ‘udist, and instructor of Western theory, ‘ud, chorus, ensemble and theory of Arab music at the National Conservatory of Music, Ramallah.
Issa has given workshops and lecture-demonstrations at several American institutions and colleges. He is cofounder of Sama Music, leader of the al-Sharq Ensemble, the Boulos Ensemble and member in Lingua Musica, and has recently been appointed director of the University of Chicago Middle East Ensemble. Although he has continued to write instrumental and vocal compositions, Boulos is best known for his theme works: Kawkab Akhar (1993), a large-scale instrumental work that capped his early stylistic development composed during the Palestinian Intifada, which was followed by ‘Arus al-Tira (1994), composed while he was an undergraduate; Samar (1998), and his extended work al-Hallaj (2000) which is a series of composed Sufi poems penetrating the philosophy and tragic ending of Abu al-Mughith al-Husayn Ibn Mansur al-`Hallaj.
His subsequent works include traditional Arabic compositions and arrangements, jazz, and film and theatre scores, notably those for Lysistrata 2000, Catharsis and recently the film The New Americans. In his orchestral composition, Shortly After Life, Boulos used a variety of Western classical compositional techniques; the work is a tribute to his father Ibrahim Boulos.
Boulos’s music still depends extensively on the melodic material of maqam; by treating this material through improvisations and using various musical techniques. His blend of tradition and innovation has forged important musical links between the Arab world and the West. Issa is currently involved with the Arab Classical Music Society (ACMC) that he established in 2003. The Society is launching an archive for Arab classical music and preparing for the release of the first volume of the Anthology of Arab Classical Music. As for his current personal projects, Issa is applying final touches on his new work Reef for kemenche and percussion. It will be released later in the Spring of 2004. http://home.uchicago.edu/~iboulos/ Contact Issa Boulos directly at email@example.com. Palestine Middle East