Al-Ahram Weekly Online   29 October - 4 November 2009
Issue No. 970
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

The magical mix

This is what happens when musicians from different parts of Asia come together

Click to view caption
Qasimov and his band

Cairo has often played host to unusual, even odd, cultural adventures, and one such is undoubtedly the annual workshop run by the Arab Youth Music Platform, known as Remix Asia, now in its fifth year, which was launched earlier this month. To test the proof in the pudding, Rania Khallaf attended a concert that seemed to present the very essence of Asian music. The workshop was organised by the Mawred Al-Thaqafi in cooperation with the Aga Khan Music Initiative in Central Asia and the Higher Music Institute in Damascus.

The aim of the workshop was to bring together young musicians from different parts of Asia in order to produce a new kind of music. It was led by three prominent musicians: Khaled Mohamed Ali from Iraq, Charbel Rouhana from Lebanon and Alim Qasimov from Azerbaijan. The outcome of the seven-day workshop is four concerts in three Arab cities; Cairo, Damascus and Aleppo.

An Egyptian audience will surely be familiar with Lebanese music, and Rouhana has quite a following in Egypt -- specifically among the Al-Genena Theatre audience. Rouhana considers the musical workshop the ideal framework for any musician with talent and ambition, a place where he or she can exchange ideas with fellow musicians and receive guidance from supervisors, which is necessary at the beginning of a new career.

This is the second consecutive year for Rouhana to participate in this workshop programme. "I believe this round will be different from previous rounds in that for the first time it has expanded to include other Arab cities rather than Cairo and Alexandria," he told reporters. Rouhana has a diploma in oud performance techniques and an MA in musicology from the University of the Holy Spirit in Kaslik. Not only that, but he has written eight books on oud performance techniques.

"Despite the fact that creativity is a unique and individual process, I believe it is very fruitful for musicians to exchange experiences about music distribution," he explained, adding that the workshop added a significant value to the movement of creative and independent music, which is surely different from what is seen in the commercial sector.

Unlike Rouhana, the Iraqi musician Khaled Mohamed Ali is more concerned with composing scores for TV and cinema. Ali has a wide knowledge of the different styles of Asian music. "Being an Iraqi, I am more acquainted with music of small countries like Azerbaijan, whose music has some common features with ours," he told Al-Ahram Weekly.

The first concert held last month at the Al-Genena Theatre was slightly exotic. The concert began with solo numbers by Ahmed Barakat: Seven, Muslim Rahal, and Ghazal, and an ensemble song called Allah Dalali from Tunisian folklore. In the second half before the interval, Rouhana, together with the mix of musicians sang four songs: Umm Almaradem, Manara, Wedding and Bil Arabi. The last song, Rouhana said, was dedicated to lovers of the Arabic language. "Express your sadness and anger in Arabic; spread the word about your people and your country in Arabic," the song goes, making fun of people who smatter their daily speech with English or French words.

In the second part of the concert Alim Qasimov and the ensemble sang four songs in the Azerbaijani folk tradition: Chesma Shikaste, Marmar Zamani, and Nadan Oldu.

It has to be said that Qasmiov looked a little weird in his traditional costume, with he and his ensemble making themselves comfortable on stage on a sofa. His dramatic, performance entailed quite a bit of screaming, shouting and shaking of hands and head. For most of the audience, perhaps facing their first encounter with the sound of that remote part of the world, it was bizarre.

The Tunisian jazz singer Narjess told the Weekly that she had enjoyed her first collaboration with the remix programme, and was fascinated by the fact that there was a strong link between the music of Tunisia and Azerbaijan. The famous Iraqi oud player and composer Khaled Mohamed Ali described the project to the Weekly as "a brilliant idea". "It brings musicians from different parts of the world together. The musicians are very distinguished, but we needed a longer time to produce a more profound product," he said. "We used to meet twice a day for a week, but this wasn't enough. I hope that next time we'll be given a longer period and the workshop will be more successful."

"I hope that during the next workshop session we will discover more oriental instruments from different countries, like Turkey, Pakistan and Serbia, and then we can come up with new music.

"It will be fantastic if the framework of the programme expands to include us holding concerts in remote countries such as Azerbaijan, and I would love to take part again in such a programme," he said.


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