Meet Mustafa Alyasiri, the Iraqi didgeridoo player

The UAE-based musician has shifted from heavy metal to aboriginal woodwind. (Supplied)
Updated 05 August 2019

Meet Mustafa Alyasiri, the Iraqi didgeridoo player

DUBAI: Mustafa Alyasiri first heard the sounds of the didgeridoo, one of the world’s oldest musical instruments, while playing a videogame in Baghdad when he was 10. The pulsating tones of the Australian aboriginal instrument felt, he says, like the call of the jungle. But it was not until almost two decades later, in 2015 at a music festival in Turkey, that Alyasiri was finally able to hold a real didgeridoo in his hands.

“I grew up listening to Western pop music and heavy metal, so the sound of the didgeridoo was entirely new and it touched something deep inside me. I felt connected to nature,” he tells Arab News. Haunted by its sound, Alyasiri —formerly the bassist and vocalist of disbanded Dubai-based metal band Tsvet Reptilia — set about teaching himself to play the didgeridoo via YouTube and online tutorials.

The Dubai-based musician has since taken the stage name Flash Didgeridoo, and has performed at several festivals, art fairs and clubs.

Alyasiri doesn’t just perform solo, either. “The didgeridoo fuses beautifully with several musical instruments. It sounds great with beat-boxing, pan drums, Djembe sounds and with meditation music,” he says. “(Even) during my solo performances, I try to play with back-end electronic music and the resulting effect is exhilarating.”

Alyasiri hopes that his attempts to mix the ancient didgeridoo with contemporary music will make more people in the region take notice of this unique instrument. Traditionally known as the Yidaki, the didgeridoo traces its origins back more than 1,500 years to the Yolngu people from the eastern Arnhem Land in northern Australia. They originally made their instruments — roughly one-to-three meters long — from termite-bored hollow eucalyptus tree trunks. Today, however, didgeridoos are shorter and lighter and are constructed from a variety of materials including solid timbre, fiber glass, plastic, ceramic and even leather. Alyasiri owns three of them.

“The one I carry around is made of plastic and very portable. The one I use for my performances is 300 centimeters long, and is custom-made in the UK from fiber glass with Mexican Day of the Dead inscriptions all over it,” he says.

The didgeridoo is easy to learn but difficult to perfect. Musicians need to learn a special ‘circular breathing’ technique which involves exhaling by using the muscles in their cheeks while breathing in through their nose. Different techniques can produce a range of sounds.

“As I had watched (so many) videos and tutorials, when I finally picked up the didgeridoo, I knew I could play it. I placed my lips on it and blew through them in a reverberating motion, letting my cheeks fill with air. But it took me several months of practice before I finally performed on stage,” he recollects.

For many of those in Alyasiri’s audiences, it is the first time they have heard a didgeridoo played live, and they often sit wide-eyed throughout.

“I have had a fairly good response from the audience at my events, they look intrigued and stay very calm, that shows that they are hooked to the music,” says Alyasiri, adding that he finds playing the didgeridoo soothing.

Alyasiri has traveled extensively in his quest to find and collaborate with other digeridoo players. He has played in Turkey, Sri Lanka, India and his native Iraq. One of his most memorable experiences took place on a trip to Rishikesh in India.

“I was playing the didgeridoo at a streetside location in this small town. Soon a small crowd started building around me, then out of nowhere a drummer joined in followed by a guitarist, and the ensemble music was electrifying and reaffirmed that music truly has no boundaries,” he says.

Next on his wish list is a trip to Australia — the land of the didgeridoo — where he hopes to truly immerse himself in the native tunes of an instrument that he has hopelessly fallen for.


Two engineers help fight Lebanese farming foe

Updated 19 August 2019

Two engineers help fight Lebanese farming foe

  • Early-warning system lets farmers know when to protect their crops from fruit flies
  • Mobile app tells them the best time to spray pesticides to halt their advance

DUBAI: An award-winning startup led by two female Lebanese engineers has created an automated early-warning system that allows Middle East farmers to protect their crops against the Mediterranean fruit fly, one of the world’s most destructive pests.

Fruit flies can devastate entire harvests and have infested over 300 types of vegetables, fruits and nuts globally, causing financial ruin to countless farmers in the Arab world.

However, an ingenious system designed by Nisrine El Turky, a computer engineer and university professor, and Christina Chaccour, an electrical engineer, will tell farmers via text messages and mobile app of the best time to spray pesticides to halt the pests’ advance.

“Many Lebanese farmers weren’t able to export apples because the quality of their produce wasn’t good enough,” said El Turky, co-founder of IO Tree.

“So many I met were desperate to sell a crate of apples for $2 (SR7.50), which is nothing. I wanted to help the sector by better integrating technology.”

Farmers were found spraying too much pesticide to try to kill fruit flies. (Shutterstock)

She began by investigating the difficulties that farmers faced, attending workshops and seminars, and visiting farms. She found the main problem was that farmers were spraying too much pesticide to try to kill fruit flies.

“I found a way that could reduce the use of pesticides and increase production.”

El Turky began working on the IO Tree concept in February 2018 and swiftly built a working prototype, which she showed to Chaccour, who promptly joined the company as a co-founder.

IO Tree’s technology is being tested on farms in Lebanon and the Netherlands. There are two prototype machines — one for indoor use and another for outdoor. The machines can be placed in an orchard, field or greenhouse.

“We need to ensure that the prototype functions in all conditions. Outdoors, there is sun, dust, rain and other weather factors that could disrupt its operation,” said El Turky, who still works up to 10 hours a week as a lecturer at Lebanon’s Notre Dame University.

Using machine learning and artificial intelligence, the machine’s sensors monitor indicators such as temperature and moisture, as well as studying plant stress.

The system can detect and identify pests, providing data on the likely scale of an imminent pest invasion and the best action the farmer should take to combat it. Information is conveyed to the farmer via IO Tree’s app.

“If you’re using pesticides, our app will tell you the best pesticide to use to tackle that problem, the quantity you need and when to spray.”

IO Tree’s sensors use machine learning to measure plant stress. (Supplied photo)

EL Turky said her technology had shown over 90 percent accuracy in identifying medflies.

“Machine learning means that every day the system becomes more accurate,” she said.

“We’re also working on identifying other pests, but medfly is our main target. Once medflies arrive at a farm, they will eat everything.”

IO Tree will enable farmers to use fewer pesticides, reducing environmental damage, while produce will be in better condition and can command a higher sales price.

“By using fewer pesticides, farmers will be better able to preserve biodiversity: Spraying kills a lot more insects than just pests,” she said. IO Tree has initially targeted all types of fruit trees, plus tomatoes and cucumbers, and the product will be launched commercially in September.

“We’re aiming at farmers directly,” said El Turky.

IO Tree’s services will be sold via subscription. After a farmer signs up for one year initially, the company will install its machines at the farm. The number of machines required per acre depends on crop type, crop yield, land topography and other factors.

The company’s initial target market is the Middle East, North Africa and Turkey, though it also plans to expand to Europe and eventually worldwide.

The product’s potential has helped IO Tree win a string of startup competitions. It was selected to represent Lebanon GSVC 2019 (Global Social Venture Competition) at the University of California, Berkeley.

IO Tree also joined Lebanon’s Agrytech accelerator, which provided $44,000 in funding, and schooled the fledgling entrepreneurs in how to create and manage a startup.

 

• The Middle East Exchange is one of the Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum Global Initiatives that was launched to reflect the vision of the UAE prime minister and ruler of Dubai in the field of humanitarian and global development, to explore the possibility of changing the status of the Arab region. The initiative offers the press a series of articles on issues affecting Arab societies.