Renowned throughout the Arab world, Le Trio Joubran is led by Palestinian ud virtuoso Samir Joubran. Samir performs in duo or trio lineups with his younger brothers: Wissam Joubran and Adnan Joubran.
Samir and his brothers are the sons of a master luthier, who is the son of a master luthier; a family steeped in the ancient history of the ud, the Arabic lute.
Their mother sang in a Muashahat (a classical Arabic poetry/music form) ensemble and their father is an ud crafter known throughout the Arab world. The brothers were born in the Galilean city of Nazareth in a family with a strong musical tradition.
The three sons perform on uds built by Wissam, who was the first Arabic luthier to graduate from the Stradivarius Institute in Cremona, Italy, where he mastered the construction of violins and uds.
Le Trio Joubran was born when elder brother Samir listened to the jazz/rock/flamenco guitar trio of Al Di Meola (USA), Paco de Lucia (Spain), and John McLaughlin (UK).
The trio’s first CD together, Randana, was the first meeting of an ud trio. “We wanted to experiment composing for three uds,” says Samir. “It was a challenge and the music was experimental. Through our touring we gained confidence which makes the music on Majaz different. It’s more accessible to a wider public; it’s more clear, transparent, and joyful but with sadness in the background, and yet proud. We introduce percussion in a very subtle way, sensitive and present. Three uds are there with three different personalities, but together.”
Le Trio Joubran released The Long March in 2018. The trio teamed up with former Pink Floyd singer, bassist and activist Roger Waters for the track Carry the Earth. The song is dedicated to all those who die for their land but especially to a tragic event when four young cousins were murdered and lost their dreams while playing football (soccer), as they’d done so many times before, on Gaza Beach. The title of this track is from a poem by the legendary Arabic poet Mahmoud Darwish – “the dead who die to carry the earth after the relics are gone”.
The Joubran brothers once more collaborated with Darwish for the track “Time Must Go By,” where the poet’s timeless words met the Trio’s sound in a wonderful union.
Brian Eno who has spent time with the band in the recording studio says “The Trio Joubran talents as musicians are complemented by their compassion as human beings. Their longstanding and determined commitment has made them a symbol of Palestinian identity and resistance. Trio Joubran, in its brilliant and fiery exuberance, sends out a message: Palestine is alive.”
Ronnie Malley is a multi-instrumentalist musician, theatrical performer, producer, and educator. He collaborates with the music groups Allos Musica, Duzan Ensemble, Lamajamal, and Surabhi, and is a faculty member at the Chicago Academy for the Arts. He performed recently at the Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF) in India with George Lawler (percussion), Subrata Bhattacharya (tabla) and Abhisek Lahiri (sarod). See my writeup on the JLF music showcase here.
His recent credits include author and composer of the original play Ziryab, The Songbird of Andalusia (Silk Road Rising World Premiere), author and composer of the story The Oud, Ziryab, and Andalusia: An Enchanting Tale of Music (Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Chicago Cultural Center). He has produced the albums Auraad Fathiya, Saazuk Safar, Tsikago, and Gypsy Surf.
Ronnie conducts Arabic language artist residencies for Chicago Public Schools through Intercultural Music Production and is a teaching artist for music and theater with Global Voices Initiative. He joins us in this wide-ranging interview on his musical journey, the role of music in cultural identity, and his message for a better world.
Q: How did the lineup for East Meets Middle East get formed? How did the musicians know each other?
RM: East Meets Middle East (EMME) formed in early 2016 as a collaboration between two Chicago musicians; George Lawler and myself, who had been playing together for over 10 years, and two seasoned classical Indian musicians from Calcutta; Subrata Bhattacharya and Abhisek Lahiri, who were both on tour and visiting Chicago. We were introduced by a mutual musician friend.
EMME’s concept arose from a conversation between Subrata and myself about a hate crime on a Sikh temple in Milwaukee, which we thought displayed the ignorance that exists about different faiths and cultures from the Middle East and India, not only in America, but elsewhere. We thought about making a project that would emphasize the uniqueness of these rich, yet distinct, cultures and serve as a contrast to many ‘East Meets West’ albums that often lump South Asian and Middle Eastern music into one broad category.
Q: How was your overall experience touring through India this month?
RM: Touring India this month was an exhilarating experience! I’d say one major highlight was being able to see three distinct cities: Kolkata, Jaipur and Delhi. In Kolkata, George and I were able to get a closer look at one of India’s cultural capitals and learn more about its folk music (e.g., Jhoomur and Tusu) as well as one of my favorite literary icons Rabindranath Tagore.
In Jaipur, the world just came together through music and literature. I especially enjoyed reconnecting with friends such as Nathu Lal Solanki (nagarra player from Rajasthan) and Homayun Sakhi (Afghan rubab player in Aga Khan All Stars). Delhi was also amazing because George and I got to perform with friends Raghu and Sudha Raghuraman, masters of Carnatic music, and also meet folks from Amarrass Records, Desmania Design, and One World College of Music.
Q: How is your album ‘East Meets Middle East’ being received by the audiences and media?
RM: Folks at the JLF were very supportive. We’re a little new as a group and still building our audience and media coverage, but social media and streaming site comments have also shown appreciation for what we’re trying to do. Some have expressed that it’s refreshing to get a more in-depth look at these cultures through music. Others enjoy the instruments and how they complement each other.
The sarod and tabla are Indian counterparts to the Middle Eastern oud and darbuka (also called a tabla in the Mid East). Though, I’d say most comments have been about the improvisation. We have a structure for the compositions, but we also leave room to improvise – making each live performance a unique experience for us and the audience.
Q: The tracks Misty Trail and Distant Star really jump out! Can you describe how they were created?
RM: All of the tracks on the album are original compositions. Misty Trail is a composition by Subrata Bhattacharya and Distant Star is an original composition of mine. Initially, Subrata went to a studio in India with Abhisek Lahiri and recorded the composition as a guide track for us to learn, and eventually re-record in Chicago.
Distant Star came about as an improvisation while rehearsing with George in Chicago, which I later arranged. Ultimately, once we had a structure for the pieces, improvisation became the focus. Indeed the whole album was conceived like that. Basically, once Subrata and Abhisek arrived in Chicago, they came to George’s and my studio for rehearsals, which we ended up recording, and that became the album. It’s a live album of original compositions and improvisations, but really it’s a musical dialogue of our encounter.
Q: What other lineups and genres have you experimented with?
RM: I grew up playing everything from rock and blues guitar to Middle Eastern and North African folk and classical music. George and I also have had the group Lamajamal for about ten years, which explores music from the Balkans, Greece, the Middle East, and North Africa. With that group, we include clarinet, bass, guitar, and various Turkish instruments. George also has a group called Byzantine Time Machine, which explores Balkan and Greek music through an electronic medium.
I also have another fusion group called Surabhi, which is a group that celebrates the connections of Indian, African, and Middle Eastern music to Spanish flamenco. The lineup for Surabhi consists of veena, oud, tabla, guitar, cajon, bass, and African percussion. Our groups are based in Chicago.
Both Abhisek and Subrata also have their own fusion projects in Calcutta as well as Europe and the US. Abhisek’s group is Ionah and Subrata’s projects are many, including Flat Earth Ensemble and Naad, to name a few. They’ve also collaborated with countless artists.
I think EMME is unique for all of us. The group explores the relationship between raga and maqam musical styles, but also delves into the improvisational components of those styles, as well as drawing on all of our collective influences in everything from Pink Floyd to Ali Akhbar Khan.
Q: How would you describe your musical journey so far, in terms of phases, genres, collaborations, inner discovery?
RM: For myself, music has been all I’ve ever really known. I went from performing in the family Mid-Eastern band at weddings as a child to playing rock and in punk marching bands to performing classical Turkish and Persian repertoire with the University of Chicago Middle East Music Ensemble to collaborating with world artists and creating groups like EMME.
I know Abhisek also began performing with his father, Pt. Alok Lahiri, at a young age. George, like myself, honed a lot of his background in world musics from Chicago’s diverse communities. It’s all really a continuous journey that unfolds new chapters with every project, encounter, or collaboration. It’s about trying to build experiences where music is a medium for social interactions and dialogue – not just for musicians, but also those with whom we interact.
Q: What are the challenges you face as a musician and composer?
RM: As a musician and composer, the great challenge is striking a balance between performing and writing in one’s career. As a performer, sufficient practice to hone one’s craft and deliver a great performance is essential, even when the repertoire is not new. One has to discover something new in what might appear mundane. As a composer, it is important to shift practice routines for performances and allow more time to think creatively for thoughts and inspiration to translate into more writing.
Q: Who would you say are the leading influences in your musical career?
RM: The family band with my father and brother is probably my first leading influence in my musical career as we were able to perform as the house band in Chicago for many visiting artists from the Middle East.
Next, I would say the musicians with whom I performed like Tony Hanna from Lebanon, Magdi El Husseini from Egypt, and Najib Bahri and Mohammed Saleh from Tunisia. A lot of credit is also due to some of Chicago’s own older established musicians who migrated to the US, like Issa Boulos and James Stoynoff.
Q: How do you blend different musical influences and genres, i.e. how do you create fusion without confusion?
RM: It is about mutual respect. For example, it is one thing to say, “Oh, I love Indian or Middle Eastern food,” and another thing to have dinner with an Indian or Middle Eastern family. In the first case, it’s like choosing something as a matter of taste simply because it’s appealing and can offer some spice to your proverbial melody. Perhaps, it’s a start to gauge interest, but confusion on what’s authentic or appropriate can arise.
In the second case, a relationship is formed. One learns the customs, language, and perspective of a culture developing a bond with the people and their tradition. The latter approach is what I appreciate about creating cross-cultural collaborations in music.
Q: What kinds of social and political messages have been conveyed in your recent albums? What is your vision of what music can do in this age of political/economical turmoil?
RM: With EMME, we’re trying to raise awareness that there are similarities and distinctions in the traditions we represent. Both Mid-Eastern and South Asian cultures have robust pluralistic societies consisting of many religions and philosophies that tend to be homogenized in the West, but also misunderstood in the East amongst the people themselves.
Our hope is that music can serve its part in an effort to bring humanity closer in dialogue and make us all more productive. While it is important to celebrate our differences, we should also get over them and realize we face similar issues that affect and should unite us all.
Q: What new album or video are you working on now?
RM: All the members of EMME have their own projects they tend to, but we are looking to begin recording a second album in Chicago around Spring and Summer of 2017.
Q: How is the creative scenario for traditional and fusion music today? Are audiences/venues/labels/artistes very open to such collaboration?
RM: It’s important not to ascribe the label ‘fusion’ to all cross-cultural collaborations. Indeed many traditional styles, such as Spanish flamenco, Indian raga, Mid Eastern maqam, and music from the Americas are organic blends of multiple styles that date back hundreds of years.
Overall, I think there’s an audience for anything one wants to focus on – and in turn, probably a record label or streaming service that’s tailored for or by that audience. There’s room for a lot styles from academic projects like Yo Yo Ma’s Silk Road, to cross-genre projects like Junoon, or straight up hip-hop sung in Arabic or Punjabi by emerging artists where these languages are spoken. My hope is that people in general can transcend the labeling of a genre and rather open more to exploring and appreciating sound, whether it’s classical or contemporary, analog or digital.
Q: Where do you see yourself 10 or 15 years from today? What are some ‘˜dream projects’ or visions you are working towards?
RM: 10 to 15 years from today I plan on continuing to work in music production and performance as well as teaching and writing about it. The greater vision is to create more interdisciplinary art projects that allow others to perceive practice of art as a way of life and perceiving the world, not just as a commodity for consumption.
Q: Do you compose on the road also, while traveling?
RM: I always have a recorder and blank sheet music handy. Inspiration strikes when you least expect it sometimes. It could come from seeing something or someone in the street, while waiting for a train, or in a cab driving through the street of Calcutta or Chicago.
Q: What are some unusual reactions you have got during your live performances?
RM: It really depends on the audience and where we’ve played. In my group Lamajamal, we had people come up to us crying saying how a piece of music brought back memories of their father or mother, or of being back in their country. That was the case once with an Armenian woman who was attending a performance at a cultural center.
We’ve also been asked to conduct workshops and lectures about the music and cultures we present. This was the case when Lamajamal presented a workshop on commonalities between Jewish, Turkish, and Middle Eastern Music at Georgetown University. My other group Surabhi has given similar performances and presentations about the commonalities of Indian, Arab, and Spanish music. These presentations are often meant with informative questions and new learning.
A different experience occurred when I was touring last year with a project called Caravanserai. The sponsors of the tour were showcasing arts and artists from the Muslim world to cities in America, where most people had never even met a Muslim, and were informed only by what they saw on TV. Zeshan Bagewadi, an Indian-American musician, and myself headlined the tour. Though we both had Muslim backgrounds, the music we presented was funk and rock n’ roll with elements of Sufi poetry and style.
In our first performance to some community members from the town, someone within earshot said, ‘So this is what terrorist music sounds like!’ That was definitely not a reaction I was expecting on the first day being in this town. After a week-long residency of workshops and community engagement there, we felt that our music and outreach was able to soften their hearts from the first reaction and open their minds by the time of the final performance at the end of the week.
Q: As a Palestinian, how important is culture to the people’s identity, and how do you see yourself contributing to this preservation?
RM: Culture is the image and representation of any people’s identity. Yet, I also think it’s important to make sure we identify with who we are – musician, artist, poet, athlete – more than where we come from. In other words, I’d rather be considered an artist who happens to be Palestinian, than always being viewed as a Palestinian artist.
My background is in Global Music Studies and I find that by knowing and passing along music from my culture or other cultures with which I engage (e.g., Indian, Turkish, Balkan, American) I can represent them better from an artistic perspective than a nationalist one. There are many Mid Eastern and South Asian artists who know their traditional cultures very well, but who also have experience in music from outside, yet existing within, their own cultures in genres like rock n’ roll, hip hop, jazz, and classical music. In that sense, they still represent who they are and also where they come from.
Artists like Junoon, Zubin Mehta, M.I.A, and the Palestinian hip-hop group DAM are all examples of artists from specific cultures who are also global representatives. In short, if I were to represent my ethnic heritage, I would say demonstrating how I am a global citizen would be one way.
Q: Do you also teach workshops for students and musicians?
RM: All of the members of EMME are also teachers of their respective craft. George and I both work at the Old Town School of Folk Music in Chicago and also work as teaching artists conducting workshops and lectures in schools and universities. Abhisek and Subrata also have many private students and have given residency workshops at schools around the world including the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana.
Q: How has the music industry changed over the years, and how has it impacted you?
RM: I think acts have come to rely greatly on the do-it-yourself model with emphasis on income from live performance, self-publishing, and potential placement for licensing than record sales, which in today’s digital economy can be negligible for artists. The ability to reach a whole new audience has never been easier through the advent of social media and recording technology. As for other aspects, we learn to embrace and utilize tools responsibly, whether they be social media or instruments like electronic loops and mixers.
Q: What is your message to the aspiring musicians out there?
RM: The only way you’ll get to where you’re going is if you remain in the game. All measures of success are relative. One does not have to be a superstar to have a career in music, even though that, too, is a legitimate aspiration. I’ve found it to be more rewarding to contemplate what we can contribute to the world as artists and how the relationships we build along the way truly determine our success.
Q: What is your message to your audiences?
RM: Support live music and art. Practice an art, whatever it may be, if just for the sake of appreciating expression and what art means to humanity. In a world, caught up in technology, nothing will ever replace the need for face to face time whether one is a practitioner, student, or observer.
“Music is a fantastic communication medium” – French cross-cultural flutist-composer Jean-Luc Thomas
Based in Brittany, French flutist and composer Jean-Luc Thomas has traveled around the world for a series of musical collaborations. Celtic traditions blend in a creative mix with African, Arab and South American sounds in his albums. Spanning folk, classical music and jazz, Jean-Luc continues to cover a wide range of sounds and styles in his projects. His earlier albums include Ainara, Translations, The Dance of Fire, Parallel Horizon, Namou, Kej, Hastan, Dibenn, and History of Water, Tree and Stone.
I caught two performances of his fusion lineup promoting his most recent album, Magic Flutes, as part of an India tour. He performed with Indian musicians Ravichandra Kulur (flute), Giridhar Udupa (ghatam), and Muthu Kumar (tablas, cajon, djembe, darbuka). They played at Alliance Francaise and The B-Flat Bar in Bangalore. In this interview, Jean-Luc speaks on his collaboration of Celtic and Carnatic styles of music, his decades-long musical journey, and message to the world.
Q: How would you describe your musical journey so far, in terms of phases, genres, collaborations, inner discovery, and so on?
JL: I learned to play the flute alone, then I learned to play music thanks to others. I started with no teachers because flute, at that time, was very new in Brittany. So I had to find the basic technical things by myself. Then I met old singers of Breton traditional musics who gave me times and songs, then I went to Ireland to play during the sessions they have in pubs.
Here I learned many technical things and lots of tunes. I was a traditional musician for 15 years (quite successful), but I felt I had to listen to others sounds. So I went to Mali, Poland, Brazil, Kurdistan, Tunisia, Niger, and so on. I played each time with local musicians. I also started to meet jazz musicians, story-tellers, electronic musicians – and little by little I discovered new sounds, new territory. I improved my availability and capacity to listen and then play with other people.
So, I always keep one feet in my local music and the other foot in encounters of other artists with improvisation as a key to communicate.
Q: How did the lineup for Magic Flutes get formed in France, and then in India?
JL: In France, Ravi and I decided to invite Camilo Menjura on guitar for the recording (we had met him earlier in Rudolstadt (Germany) in 2013). When we started recording Ravi and I immediately thought about Camilo. Camilo is a Colombian guitar player living in London. When we performed last June, he couldn’t leave England for administrative reasons, so we had Philippe Bayle at the guitar. In June, we also performed with tabla player Prabhu Edouard, who plays kanjira and some other percussion as well. It was a great moment!
In India, Ravi wanted to try several combinations, I think it was a very good idea. We could change the colors of each concert, so we had Giridhar Udupa (ghatam), Muthu Kumar (tablas, cajon, darbuka), Swam Selvanganesh (kanjira), and Rafiq Langa (khartal). We played sometimes in trio, sometimes in quartet. I completely trusted Ravi on his musical propositions. So, every concert was a different party.
Q: What are the features of Carnatic music that makes it possible for you to collaborate so well with South Indian musicians?
JL: As a Breton traditional musician, I come from a modal music, not tonal. This is the specificity of Carnatic ragas. We play modes or ragas and not tonality. I’m fascinated with modes, music with drones, which is very meditative and very inspiring for improvisation. The time stops, you are in a meditative atmosphere and then you let the ideas become organized, the improvisation emerges, and you let music go through you!
Q: How was your overall experience touring through India this month? What were some highlights for you?
JL: We had very good concerts in Bangalore, Chennai, Ahmedabad and Delhi. Every concert was different because we changed the line up for each concert. It was a really good experience to travel through India with Ravichandra as a guide. I saw so many different things, met so many people, listen to so many amazing musics, eaten so many different meals, that I need a little bit of time for a good digestion of all that!
Q: How did the musicians know each other?
JL: I met Ravi in Rudolstadt in July 2014, Camilo Menjura was also a part of Magic Flute’s first creation in Rudolstadt. Then sometimes I introduced Ravi to Western musicians, sometimes Ravi introduced me to Indian musician. Music is a fantastic communication medium!
During the Indian tour, many musicians met just before the concert. The musical quality of each of them allows lot of precision and freedom for us. Music allows that situation, especially if you are ready to improvise, which is obvious in India, but not so obvious sometimes in Europe.
Q: How is your album being received by audiences and media?
JL: We had very good feedbacks of this album, internationally (Canada, South America, USA Belgium) and in France (including Brittany, where I live). Endorsements and praise have come from Cloudcast (Canada), RTBF (Belgium), Le Tregor, Global Village, Trad Magazine, and Ethnotempos.
Q: The tracks ‘Crossroads’ and ‘Carnaak Nagin’ really jump out! Can you describe how they were created?
JL: I composed the fast melody of Crossroads for Ravi in 2014 when I came to Bangalore. I was thinking about his flute and this tune arrived. Then we practiced together and Ravi wanted to have an aalap. When he played it, I was thinking of the ancient Pibroch (Piobaireachd or Celmar) of the old tradition of bagpipes from Scotland. Then Ravi composed the last tunes, and one after the other, each of us brought an idea; we tried, we kept, we changed, we threw, we kept some elements. It is the way we work together. On the album, the presence and colors of Camilo Menjura are awesome, and he contributes a lot to the sound of this album.
Carnaak Nagin is another story. We were talking about common groove and scales. I played a very old tune from South Brittany on a very old scale (microtonality, ¼ tone) and Ravi immediately enjoyed it, so we played it again. The tempo arrived and the dances from South-Brittany could communicate with Indian snake’s dances. For the recording, Ravi also wanted to have additional percussion and they also bring their own colors in this album, on tunes like Carnaak Nagin. (Carnac is a place in south Brittany famous for menhirs and dolmens of the old Celts tradition.)
Q: What other lineups have you played with?
JL: The album original ‘Magic Flutes’ features Camilo Menjura (guitar), Jerome Kerihuel (percussion), and additional percussionists K.U Jayachandra Rao (mridangam), G. Guruprasanna (kanjira) and Muthu Kumar (table, darbuka). For my Bangalore tour in 2014, I collaborated with Arun Kumar (drums), Prakash Kn (bass), and Aman Mahajan (keyboards).
In France, I have teamed up with Philippe Bayle (guitar) and Prabhu Edouard (tablas, kanjir). Other musicians on my India tour this year have been Swami Selvanganesh (kanjira) and Rafiq Langa (karthals).
Q: What are the challenges you face as a musician and composer?
JL: As a flute player, you need to work every day on the instrument, so, it’s a lot of time just to keep connected to the instrument. You need to work on technical things, daily exercises on improvisation and traditional music. Then you need to feed your art by listening, reading, observing nature, to find inspiration for compositions, new roads to explore as an artist and, of course, meet other musicians.
And then, you need to work, record albums, perform live. I created a label with Gaby Kerdoncuff, another musician from Brittany, called Hirustica, which is 10 years in 2017. It allows us to record and produce our music with 100% liberty. So you need to be always connected to the instrument, find ideas and be creative, try to perform to make your compositions live on stage or on albums.
Q: Who would you say are the leading influences in your musical career?
JL: So many influencers, from local musicians and singers from Brittany and Ireland to others like Hariprasad Chaurasia, Hermeto Pascoal, Alim Kasimov, Steve Reich, Egberto Gismonti, Eric Dolphy, and Rolland Kirk – without forgetting the amazing nature from Brittany with sea, birds, forests and rivers and all the wonderful musicians I met on my musical journey!
Q: How do you blend different musical influences and genres, i.e. how do you create fusion without confusion?
JL: In all the collaborations I had, I wanted everybody to keep his accent. I think of music as a discussion, sometimes you have to talk, sometimes you have to listen and be silent when the other is speaking. When everybody speaks, that’s confusion for me in music as in life. So, the human quality of the others musicians is also fundamental.
Q: What kinds of social and political messages have been conveyed in your recent albums? What is your vision of what music can do in this age of political and economical turmoil?
JL: We can be Indian, Breton, Nigerian, and so on – but before all we are terrans, we live on this earth, we have our qualities and limit. There are so many things we can’t do alone so we need to work and learn from the other. Anyone else can teach us some important things in music, in life. We need to move the borders, keep our accent, our spices, but cook together something new with humility and sincerity because each is a new school.
1+1 is more than 2. Over religions, politics, and opinions, you have music and the quality of a relationship on stage. I played with so many different musicians. But I felt always the desire to share music above all with all of them. Through music or arts, you can meet so many different people. Learn to accept and enjoy the difference because it helps to learn and grow.
Q: What new album or video are you working on now?
JL: The next album, ‘Serendou.’ will be released in February. It’s a collaboration with the amazing flautist and singer Yacouba Moumouni and Boubacar Souleymane from Niger, we have worked together for 10 years now. We played in Niger, France, Brazil, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Belgium, and now it’s time for the second album. We have guests Carlos Malta (Pifano-Japurutu) and Bernardo Aguiar (pandeiro) from Rio de Janeiro, and the amazing Michel Godard on tuba. We’ll be on tour in France and Scandinavia in March 2017.
I will also finish a new solo creation ‘Oficina Digital,’ which is a concert where I wrote 100% of the music. I worked with a looper who sent soundtakes I made in Brazil during different stays and my own flute that I loop in real time for diffusion via five speakers around the audience. There is also a video I made in Brazil. It’s a creation with video mappings and spatialized sounds, and takes me a lot of time.
Q: How is the creative scenario for jazz and fusion music in France today?
JL: My humble perception is that it’s still possible to find some places opened to experimentations, creations, far from the big music business. But it’s a fragile network supported by people of an amazing faith in new sounds, radicalities and explorations. I’m surrounded by fine musicians who try to explore new musical horizons, sometimes they can have support from festivals, venues, producers, radios – and sometimes not, but most of them don’t give up and never will.
In the 70s it seemed that everything was possible, now some producers have managed to format music as entertainment and not for art or culture, so it’s not so easy for creative and original artists to be regularly programmed. But there still remain some places and festivals who keep providing spaces for undiscovered sounds.
Q: Are French audiences, venues, labels and artistes very open to collaboration?
JL: Some are, others are not. Most of them are in search of rentability or easy profit. It means mainstream success. As in any city, you can find fast food and cheap bad food restaurants, you’ll find in the world (and France is a part of that), fast listening, quick consuming, big musical gatherings who can survive because they sell lots of beers surrounded by a bad loud sound. But it’s also always possible to find real restaurants with people who prepare good food with originality, ethics and creativity.
Q: Where do you see yourself 10 or 15 years from today? What are some ‘dream projects’ or visions you are working towards?
JL: I have no vision, life has taught me that everything I have is more than any of the dreams I could have. I play with fantastic musicians: Michel Godard, Yacouba Moumouni, Carlos Malta, Ravichandra Kulur, and so on. I never dreamed of that and it’s really deeper and more beautiful that any dreams I could have.
So, no projection, I keep working on my Breton garden, open to Indian spices, African ginger, Brazilian coconut – trying to be honest with me, musicians I play with and audiences who may come to my concerts.
Q: How does your composition process work? When do collaboration and jams come in?
JL: Each composition is different. You can compose thinking about a place, a person, you can compose during an exercise, during a walk in the forest, looking at the sea, or inspired by a book. I always start with a melody. I sing it, then I record it in a non definitive version. I let it sleep for a while and come back to it a few days later to listen with fresh ears – I change some things or maybe not, and then think about the pulse, a bass line, some harmonies.
Then I may continue alone or submit to other musicians who will add their own creativity for the structure, introduction and so on. Sometimes I can do everything at home, sometimes I wait for a rehearsal to fix more some elements. Each composition has its own story!
Q: Do you compose on the road also, while traveling?
JL: It happens, I need calm, time, good vibes, feeling quiet to be able to compose. Very often, I compose after traveling, back home, quiet.
Q: What are some unusual reactions you have got during your live performances?
JL: With Magic Flutes, during our last concert in France in June 2016, many people cried. They had too much emotion relating to the dialogue, respect, love between myself and Ravichandra Kulur. That was very intense for Ravi and me.
Q: Do you also teach workshops for students and musicians?
JL: Yes, very often, it can be traditional music from Brittany or Ireland, or improvisation. I give three or four workshops (from two days to one week) each year.
Q: How has the music industry changed over the years, and what are the effects? For example, downloads, social media, loops/mixers.
JL: Everything changes around us, everyday. So, you have to learn and adapt. I don’t want to be sad about old times. What is happening, happens. I knew vinyl, tapes, CDs, and now digital technology. But in Brittany vinyl is back with lots of interest. So it’s good to be connected to the world, we can listen today to all the music of the world, but do we listen? One thing will never change, it’s the quality of time you spend practicing, rehearsing, listening.
Q: What is your message to the musicians and audiences out there?
JL: Keep faith, work on your personality, open your ears and your heart. Never forget curiosity and alterity!
Music fans should settle in and enjoy the sumptuous ride that is Transparent Water. Co-creator Omar Sosa, the Cuban-born composer, bandleader and pianist, has such recordings as Eggun – The Afri-Lectric Experience, Jog, Ile and Calma under his belt, while Seckou Keita, the Senegalese kora master, has released albums like 22 Strings/Cordes, Afro-Mandinka Soul with his own Seckou Keita Quartet and Clychau Dibon. Joining forces under the Ota Records label, Transparent Water, set for release on February 24th, pairs Mr. Sosa’s Afro-Cuban and jazz sensibilities with the lush African traditions of Mr. Keita’s long musical legacy of his griot family.
Transparent Water is where world music meets world jazz, where tradition meets improvisation and where the lines of spiritual and earthy meet. The result is stunningly evocative.
With Mr. Sosa on piano, Fender Rhodes, sampling, microKorg and vocals and Mr. Keita firmly enticing listeners with his kora mastery, as well as talking drum, djembe, sabar and vocals, listeners are treated to the interplay between these two musicians and composers. But as luck would have it, Mr. Sosa and Mr. Keita turn the music on its ears with the additions of Chinese musician Wu Tong on sheng and bawu; Japanese koto master Mieko Miyazaki; Venezuelan percussionist Gustavo Ovalles on bata drums, culo’puya, maracas, guataca, calabaza and clave; Korean geojungo player E’Joung-Ju; and Rajasthani nagadi player Mosin Khan Kawa.
Cuban rhythms, African melodies and Asian influences pile up, separate and mesh together in an expansive musical tapestry where it’s impossible to pull at one musical thread and undo the lot.
Like water, Transparent Water flows easy from the jazzy opening track “Dary” into the delicately piano and kora interplay of “In the Forest.” Lush track flows into lush track with goodies like the sheng laced “Black Dream,” the catchy African influenced “Mining-Nah” with Mr. Keita’s vocals warming up the track and mysteriously moody “Another Prayer.”
Listeners can’t help but be charmed by tracks like sassy offering “Fatiliku,” the dreamy musical landscape of “Oni Yalorde” with Mr. Tong on the bawu or the piano lines of “Zululand.” Transparent Water is one of those recordings that requires listeners stop and really listen and it’s best if you just go with its flow.
Mr. Sosa, Mr. Keita and company have conjured up a truly brilliant collaboration on Transparent Water. Mesmerizing, evocative and sophisticated, Transparent Water begs for a listen.
American percussionist Jerry Leake has recorded a superb album where he explores various musical genres. Leake is best known for his Cubist projects where he fused world music, rock and jazz-rock.
Crafty Hands is album dedicated to percussion and it’s a true delight. Jerry Leake uses an arsenal of percussion instruments drawn from many different global cultures, creating a rich and masterfully-crafted palette of rhythms. However, Leake is joined by other musicians, who enrich his work and take the fusion even further, incorporating jazz, rock, and ambient electronic music.
The opening piece, “Crafy Hands”, sets the tone with a traditional Ewe song where he uses a mix of instruments from three of Ghana’s ethnic groups, the Ewe, Dagomba and Ashanti. On top of this he layers Senegalese sabar beats, Moroccan frame drum and karkabas (metal castanets) and well as complex flamenco bulerias. Here, Leake is accompanied by guitars.
On the second piece, an original titled “Apprentice”the music turns electric and more jazz fusion-oriented, combining powerful drum set beats, electric bass, piano and guitar with harmonica along with various other percussion instruments. It’s based on a Dagomba rhythm and melody and showcases the talent of three students from Leake’s Berklee Global Jazz class.
“Time Hunt” is total jazz-rock fusion featuring fantastic synth solos that recall Joe Zawinul, electric guitars that echo Bill Frisell and Leake’s wide-range of percussion, ranging from marimba to tabla and drum set.
On Track 4, “Do you Think Your Thought” Leake invited DJ Mr. Rourke, who adds hip hop vocal samples that are combined with various drums.
“Blue Water” is a short shamanic composition with a flute that sounds Native American along with percussion, water sounds and resonator guitar.
Track 6 features a mesmerizing solo vibraphone performance titled “Alchemy.”
“String Theory” has some of the best electric guitar work on the album, with a soaring guitar that progresses beautifully accompanied by an assortment of irresistible rhythms.
The brief “Mr. Gong Prelude” highlights the gong accompanied by thunder tube. It leads into a traditional Dagombe song titled “Mr. Gong”, where Afro-roots fusion returns with rock-style guitar and outstanding percussion.
Track 10, “Tarang” is a tabla solo by Leake.
The remarkable sound of the talking drum opens “Dub Clef,” another traditional Dagombe tune that is reconstructed as a jazz-rock piece with electric and acoustic guitars and more masterful percussion structures. This piece has very close connections to the sound you’ll find on the Cubist albums.
The solo vibraphone reappears on track 12, “Quarks.”
Mr. Rourke returns with his turntables and samples on the last track, “Begin by Listening”. Spoken word and ethnic vocal samples sound much better than rap in the context of world music. Leake adds trance-like beats.
The lineup on Crafty Hands includes Jerry Leake on sabar, cajón, karkabas, vocals, bendir, gonkogui, atoké, shakers, floor tom, gender wayang, gung-gong, handclaps, lunga, cymbal, drum set, riq, yabla, daval, tar, triangle, marimba, cowbell, agogo, pandero, recorder flutes, water sounds, thunder tube, vibraphone, sogo, sabar, kidi, guiro, atoké, and clave; Randy Roos on nylon string, electric, baritone, MIDI and resonator guitars, bass; Steve Hunt on keyboards; Mr. Rourke on turntables and samples; Santiago Bosch on electric piano; Roni Eytan on harmonica; and Max Gerl on electric bass.
Elbicho was one of Spain’s leading jam bands. The group was forged on the streets in the heart of Madrid. Their rapidly growing and loyal fan base raved about their live performances and eagerly spread the word (along with their first demo recording), to such an extent that it wasn’t long before they received offers from industry giants.
Their live acts, both energetic and addictive, hardly gave a moment’s rest conjugating and fusing flamenco bulerias and tanguillos with an array of diverse styles such as progressive rock, rap, blues, African rhythms and a touch of jazz Based in Madrid. Well known in Spain, but with little exposure outside the country, El Bicho put together a captivating show, appealing to musicians and non-musicians alike, and always bringing the house to its feet.
The band traced its origin to a music workshop directed by Guillermo McGill at the Escuela Popular de Musica, where lead singer Miguel Campello from Elche (eastern Spain) met Victor Iniesta (guitar) and in turn Carlos Tato (bass), Toni Mangas (drums) and David Amores (percussion) join the group forming El Combo Flamenco.
After a year of gigs and composing they recorded their demo Bichos which became a major sell out at their concerts. In 2002 Juan Carlos Aracil (flute) and Pepe Aracil (trumpet) joined the group, elevating the music yet another step, and contributing to establish their definitive sound.
Elbicho’s debut album includes major names in Spain’s Flamenco scene, such as Jorge Pardo, Carles Benavent, Tino di Geraldo, Tomasito, Eva Duran and Javier Alvarez. The record was produced by Tino di Geraldo and Guillermo Quero.
The most recent line-up included Miguel Campello Garzón on vocals, Victor Iniesta Iglesias on guitar, Carlos Tato Moreno on bass, Antonio Mangas Ovide on drums, David Cobo Amores on percussion, Juan Carlos Aracil Sala on flute, Mario Díaz Bermejo on keyboards, and José Andreu Garzón on trumpet.
Several of El Bicho’s members had side projects such as world music and jazz fusion band Candelaria.
On May 16th of 2008, elbicho recorded a live album in Madrid that includes two music CDs and a DVD with live concert footage. De Imaginar contains passionate flamenco rooted songs that are popular with the public as well as extensive instrumental jams where elbicho blends high energy Andalusian rock with Afro-Latin beats, jazz fusion and much more.
In June of 2010 the band announced that it was going to take a break and scheduled as farewell tour. As a farewell gift to the group’s fans, the DRO label released a boxed set To Junto that includes elbicho’s entire discography plus a bonus CD with demos and other unreleased material.
Arto Tuncboyaciyan was born in 1957, in Galataria, a town outside Constantinople. He is the youngest child of an Armenian family, with roots from Anatolia. Arto’s family had financial problems that were solved when the elder brother Onno, became a musician.
At the age of 11, Arto started his professional music career playing and recording throughout Turkey and Europe. One of his main influences was his brother Onno, who helped him not only as a brother, but also as a friend and fellow musician.
In 1981, Arto moved to the United States to explore new musical directions. Since then he has recorded with Gerardo Núñez, Al DiMeola , Joe Zawinul, Bob Berg, Mike Manieri, Chet Baker, Marc Johnson, Dino Saluzzi, Omar Faruk Tekbilek, Eleftheria Arvanitaki and many others.
In 1985, Keytone released two solo CDs by Arto: “Virginland” and “Main Root. He then started a creative collaboration with the Armenian ud player Ara Dinkjian, with whom he recorded in duo Tears of Dignity and Onno for the Greek label Libra Music. Onno was in fact an homage to Arto’s beloved brother, who was killed tragically in a plane crash in 1996.
With Ara Dinkjian, Arto was a member of the group Night Ark and recorded Picture, Moments, Wonderland and Petals On Your Path. In 1998 he participated in the Italian project Triboh, conceived and co-led with the vocalist Maria Pia De Vito and the piano player Rita Marcotulli, recording the CD Triboh for the Italian label Polosud.
He is a member of the group Walking Fish together with Matthew Garrison, Jim Beard, Gene Lake and Bob Malach. His album with Paul Winter, Every Day is a New Life, was released by the Living Music label.
Currently, Arto is working with Armenian musicians with whom he founded his group The Armenian Navy Band, a small orchestra rooted in Armenian and Anatolian traditional music inspired by contemporary life. The project was conceived in 1998 after a meeting in Yerevan with young Armenian musicians from different musical backgrounds including ethnic and contemporary Armenian music. Since then, the idea to create a group to represent the sound of Armenia today was realized.
The two albums that represent the current aspects of Arto’s musical discovery are Aile Muhabbeti, a movie soundtrack composed by the artist, and Bzidik Zinvor.
Bzidik Zinvor was recorded in Armenia and is the result of the very first meeting with several musicians from Yerevan. Arto’s original compositions express the sounds of generations past alongside those of modern life: this is what he calls “avant-garde folk”. Of his music, Arto also says, “//Without losing your identity you extend your imagination//.”
During 2000 and 2001 The Armenian Navy Band toured Europe to great acclaim from public and press alike. This experience is reflected in the CD “New Apricot” recorded in Istanbul for the Turkish label Imaj Müzik.
Arto can be heard on various recordings including those of Chet Baker The Best Thing For You, Arthur Blythe Hipmotism and Night Song, Jim Pepper The Path, Marc Johnson Right Brain Patrol and Magic Labyrinth, Dino Saluzzi Mojotor, Al Di Meola World Sinfonia, Heart of the Immigrants and Kiss Me Axe, Bob Berg Virtual Reality and Riddles, Hank Roberts Little Motor People, Mike Mainieri An American Diary, Joe Zawinul Stories of the Danube and My People, Oregon Oregon 97, Paul Winter & The Earth Band Journey With The Sun, flamenco guitar master Gerardo Núñez Calima and many other great recordings.
In 2002 he formed Serart, a collaboration with System of a Down’s Serj Tankian. Serart released an album on Serjical Strike and Columbia Records on May 20, 2003.
“It’s not a rock album, it’s not a band, it’s not a solo album for me,” sayd Serj Tankian. “It’s a collaboration that I was compelled to do with a very creative artist. It’s a very special type of album.”
It is important to note that Serart is not at all similar to a SOAD album – it’s a departure away from SOAD’s progressive-metal barrage. Serart finds these two, seemingly disparate, creative artists joining for a new vision. Serj describes the album best, “It’s really crazy world, jazz and experimental with some rock and hip-hop beats, dance beats, and electronic beats. Arto plays the Coke bottle, water droplets, an ancient flute, percussion of all sorts, little toys and shakers.”
The music on Serart is both “cross genre and cross cultural,” an exotic and eclectic blend of electronica, poetry, Middle Eastern melodies, Pan-African rhythms, classical motifs melded with volleys of percussion. In addition to the 16 musical tracks on the album, Serart comes with a DVD component, the 14 minute experimental film, “Sun Angle Calculator,” directed and edited by Matthew Amato. “The film is a visual collage,” says Serj. “The name, ‘Sun Angle Calculator,’ is a funny way of saying ‘let me help you see the light.‘”
The Armenian Navy Band’s 2004 album Sound of Our Life – Part One: Natural Seed is a nearly 50-minute-long composition in eleven parts, which is dedicated to nature. Natural Seeds takes the listener along part of the path of life that Arto Tuncboyaciyan and his musicians have traveled.
The recording equally represents the return to the origins of the musical ‘seed’ of The Armenian Navy Band; the tremendous joy and affection which the band?s musicians feel with and for each other in the here and now of their life together ? also outside the recording studios and stages; as well as the hopeful, self-confident view to the future. For Arto Tuncboyaciyan, the project Sound of Our Life is a never-ending musical documentation of the future.
When asked about the meaning of music, Arto replied: “Music is the sound of my life. I don’t pretend to lead anyone. I leave it up to one’s imagination. What I try to express is love, respect and the truth.”
Two new albums by Arto Tun?boyaciyan came out in January of 2005, Love Is Not in Your Mind (Heaven and Earth CD HE 19) and Artostan (Heaven and Earth CD HE 19).
Love Is Not in Your Mind is a duo project with the dazzling pianist and keyboardist of the Armenian Navy Band (Arto’s band) Vahagn Hayrapetyan. It features Tuncboyaciyan’s engaging vocal style and fiery percussion along with Hayrapetyan’s outstanding keyboard work. All songs on Love Is Not in Your Mind are never ending love stories. It is Tuncboyaciyan’s very personal declaration of love, dedicated his mother. “Taking care and sacrificing. That is what I have seen at my home and that is my mama. I never see her sleep before me or wake up after me. A ways feeling her love being there for you, making balance at home gives you great confidence and positive power. I am proud to have mama like you, and also my wife and my sister for being great mothers. When I lost my mother on May 17th 2003,1 was 46 years old. At that moment I realized that there is no age difference between a mother’s and a child’s love.”
Artostan is described as avant-garde folk and the description is pretty accurate. On Artostan, Tuncboyaciyan focuses on vocal experimentation, with his characteristic rhythmic vocal pieces as well as digitally manipulated vocals, accompanied by percussion solos and effects. He also plays a small lute called bular. The album is a trip to Arto Tuncboyaciyan’s philosophical homeland: Artostan. “Because of what’s going on in the world today with my human rights, dignity and power, I declare my own country in me. Artostan.”
* Virginland (Keytone, 1989)
* Main Root (Keytone, 1994)
* Tears Of Dignity (Libra, 1996)
* Onno (Libra, 1998)
* AVC1 (Imaj Müzik, 1998)
* Triboh (Polosud, 1998)
* Armenian Navy Band (Svota Music, 1999) Bzdik Zinvor (Svota Music, 1999)
* Every Day is a New Life (Living Music / Earth Music Production, 2000)
* New Apricot (Imaj Müzik, 2001)
* Picture (RCA / Novus)
* Moments (RCA / Novus)
* In Wonderland (Polygram)
* Petals On Your Path (Universal Music)
* Serart (Serjical Strike/Columbia, 2003)
* Sound of Our Life – Part One: Natural Seeds (Heaven and Earth HE 14, 2004)
* Love Is Not in Your Mind (Heaven and Earth CD HE 19, 2005)
* Artostan (Heaven and Earth CD HE 19, 2005)
* How Much Is Yours? (Svota Music, 2005)
* Under Your Thoughts (Svota Music, 2009)
The music of Ancient Future is a fusion of rhythms and exotic sounds featuring virtuoso musicians from around the globe. Their music combines contemporary jazz and rock with the rhythms of Africa, Bali, India, the Middle East and South America, the rich harmonies of European classical music, and the melodic knowledge of the whole world.
Formed in 1978, Ancient Future is one of the first and longest running musical organization dedicated exclusively to the mission of creating world fusion music.
Two of the founding members, Matthew Montfort and Benjy Wertheimer, were childhood friends in Boulder, Colorado, who dreamed of forming a band together.
In the summer of 1977, Wertheimer and Montfort arrived to Northern California to study North Indian classical music at the Ali Akbar College of Music. There they met the members of the Diga Rhythm Band (an offshoot of the Grateful Dead featuring tabla master Zakir Hussain, Mickey Hart, and Jerry Garcia), moved into the house that the group rehearsed in, and formed a new band including Diga Rhythm Band members Tor Dietrichson, Jim Loveless, Ray Spiegel, and Arshad Syed.
The new band rehearsed at the Grateful Dead studio and performed a number of concerts before splitting up into two groups: a Latin band, and the world fusion music group Ancient Future. Ancient Future can therefore be thought of as having formed as an offshoot of an offshoot of an offshoot of the Grateful Dead.
The original members of Ancient Future studied with the master musicians of many world music traditions, from Balinese gamelan director Mad? Gerindem to North Indian sarod master Ali Akbar Khan. They used their knowledge of world music to create something new and uniquely their own that is respected by pundits from the cultures whose traditions are a part of the mix.
Over the years, Ancient Future has expanded its musical vision through collaborations with master musicians from more than two dozen countries, cultures, and musical traditions who are now an integral part of what is today more than just a band.
Ancient Future has grown to become a large multinational music ensemble with many smaller ensembles within it, enabling Ancient Future to realize its core mission of creating world fusion music.
Ancient Future has released seven full length studio CDs selling over 150,000 units: Visions of a Peaceful Planet, Natural Rhythms, Quiet Fire, Dreamchaser, World Without Walls, Asian Fusion, and Planet Passion. Over one million legal mp3 files from three of these releases on Ancient-Future.Com Records have been distributed commercially. This of course does not count files distributed illegally (Ancient Future’s leader, Matthew Montfort, was selected as the proposed Class Representative for Independent Musicians Against Napster due to the large number of Ancient Future files being traded illegally). Ancient Future has also recorded two live CDs and a video (for release on DVD) of a live concert featuring four different versions of the band.
Ancient Future has performed over a thousand shows worldwide, headlining such venues as Carnegie Recital Hall (New York City), Great American Music Hall (San Francisco), Hult Center for the Performing Arts (Eugene), Yoshi’s (Oakland), Sangeetha Indian Music Concert Series (St. Louis), and even a night club called Atlantis in Beirut, Lebanon, with a Piranha tank in the middle of the dance floor and a bar that doubles as an aquarium.
They have appeared at every type of festival imaginable including the Festival Internacional de la Guitarra (near Barcelona, Spain), Asian/Pacific Festival of Fortune, Northwest Regional Folklife Festival, Oregon Country Fair, Sand Harbor Jazz Festival, California WorldFest, Monterey World One, Sierra Nevada World Music Festival, San Luis Obispo Mozart Festival, and the Summer of Love 30th Anniversary in Golden Gate Park.
Dance versions of the band have pumped up dance crowds at techno/DJ events such as the Groove Garden and Harmony Festival’s Techno Tribal Dance with their 100% organic loop-free grooves.
* Visions of a Peaceful Planet (1979, Ancient-Future.Com 2004)
This Kuala Lumpur-based band was formed in 2008 solely for the Rainforest World Music Festival 2008. Their debut show received overwhelming response from festival goers. AkashA’s music is a mixture of fiery percussion with blazing piano and raging sitar and guitar solos. Tha band describes their music as a redefinition of Indian music laced with Malaysian and world influences.
In 2009 the band became a larger outfit by adding three more members to create a better music ensemble. Sivabalan Shanmuga Sundram plays mriddangam (mridangam), ganjeera (kanjira) and konnakol. Aside from Sivabalan, the original members of AkashA in 2008 were Kumar Karthigesu who plays sitar, Jamie Wilson on acoustic steel guitar and Vikneswaran Ramakrishnan on tabla and konnakol. In 2009, the band added Badar Fawzey Taleb who plays world percussion, Eric Li on digital piano, and Greg Henderson on acoustic bass guitar.
The encouraging response had also convinced AkashA to release its album entitled “into… AkashA” in 2009. The album consisted of a wide-range of genres played on traditional instruments with fusion elements.
For Baka Beyond, global fusion is a way of life. In 1992, Martin Cradick & Su Hart visited and played with the Baka people in the Cameroon rainforest. The resulting group pioneered the Afro-Celt groove, and five albums later (four for Joe Boyd’s Hannibal label), Baka Beyond is a collaborative music process, learned from the Baka people – ‘everyone to be listened to’.
Baka Beyond is an ever-evolving world music project involving musicians from five countries in West & Central Africa and Europe. The African players,, everyone an acknowledged virtuoso with a parallel career in their own right,, meet the Northern European traditions where Martin, Su, and Breton fiddle maestro Paddy Le Mercier learned their music. Over the years, they have got to know each other and each other’s way of working Baka Beyond live or in the studio is a living lesson in communication, in passing the energy round.
The relationship with the Baka themselves grows closer by the year. Regular return visits keep the inspiration strong, but have also kept Martin &Su in touch with what is needed for them to survive and preserve their culture. Royalties due for the gift of a rhythm or a tune are distributed among the musicians’ communities and for projects in association with charities such as the World Rainforest Movement. The group themselves are also heavily involved in cultural and environmental education in Britain.