Samer Rashed takes ‘Arabic gypsy jazz’ to the UK

The Palestinian viola player tours England this month to promote new album. (Supplied)
Updated 08 November 2019

Samer Rashed takes ‘Arabic gypsy jazz’ to the UK

CAIRO: “Think of a viola soloist presenting a fusion of gypsy jazz and Arabic music, then think of the viola — itself an underrated musical instrument in the Arab world — as the leading instrument of this blend,” Palestinian violist and composer Samer Rashed says of his singular musical project, ahead of his UK tour this month.

Between November 16 and 29, the Jerusalem-based musician and his trio will perform in London, Coventry, and Birmingham as part of a double-bill featuring British-Bahraini trumpet player Yazz Ahmed, before concluding their tour in Sheffield on the UN International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People.

The tour will bring Rashed’s second album, “Tales of the Gypsy Jazz,” to an international audience following its launch concert at Ramallah Municipality Theatre in May, which began his tour across Palestine. Now available on several streaming platforms, the album has created considerable buzz since its May release, with “April in Jerusalem” and “Wedding, for Zeina” in particular gaining acclaim.

In August, the magazine This Week in Palestine named Rashed “Artist of the month,” praising his new album for its “diverse range of upbeat and slow music that takes listeners on a variety of journeys and presents yet again an unprecedented employment of the viola as the key instrument in this genre.”

The Jerusalem-based musician and his trio will perform in London between Nov. 16-29. (Supplied)

Rashed’s success, the review continued, “sets a great example for young Palestinian musicians, showing them what can be accomplished with minimal resources and maximum ambition.”

Featuring seven original compositions all written by Rashed, the album was sponsored by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation and the Palestinian Performing Arts Network.

While Rashed’s signature sound certainly employs the “joyful and upbeat rhythms” typical of gypsy jazz, he says he is not interested in  “imitation of the genre’s features or the simple creation of musical replicas.”

“It’s not like listening to the music of Romani guitarist Jean Django Reinhardt or French jazz guitarist Biréli Lagrène,” Rashed says of his musical style. “I try to bring in my own interpretation of the genre.”

“Tales of the Gypsy Jazz” is Rashed’s second album. (Supplied)

In “Tales of the Gypsy Jazz,” that “interpretation” means the viola takes center stage, explains Rashed, and is apparent in the “musical experimentation” that underpins the compositions, particularly the inclusion of the accordion and buzuq.

Two years in the making, “Tales of the Gypsy Jazz,” builds on the success of Rashed’s first album, “Gypsy Rhapsodies,”” albeit in a “more experimental manner.”

Released in 2016, Rashed’s debut album also consisted of seven tracks; five original compositions in addition to “innovative rearrangements” of two traditional Arabic songs: “’Ala Moj al-Bahr” by Syrian singer Mayada Bsilis, and “Bint e-Shalabiyah” by Lebanese legend Fayrouz.

A 2012 graduate of the National Conservatory of Music in Jerusalem where he would later teach, Rashed chose to specialize in the viola (“a very challenging instrument,” he says) early on.

Rashed’s signature sound certainly employs the “joyful and upbeat rhythms” typical of gypsy jazz. (Supplied)

“It’s unusual to see instruments like the viola or violin become leading instruments or main solos in a music project, with other instruments like the piano, buzuq or accordion as only accompanying instruments,” Rashed says.

Determined to create his own viola-inspired sound, Rashed traveled to Istanbul in 2013 where he studied Turkish gypsy and jazz music with renowned Turkish violinist Nedim Nalbantoglu, before returning to Jerusalem and specializing in music composition.

He has since performed in music festivals across the Arab world and in Europe. He has played alongside established musicians including Lebanon’s Marcel Khalife at Beiteddine Art Festival and British violinist Nigel Kennedy at the The Proms in London.

Being invited to play at major festivals, is, Rashed says, a major boost for instrumental music, which remains underappreciated in the Arab world.

“People still believe that an instrumental performance is not worthy of their time,” he says. “But things are changing, and we are discovering that people are thirsty for change and are starting to like this music more.”

Jeddah-based Bricklab wins Art Jameel’s International Design Award

Bricklab was founded in 2015 by brothers Abdulrahman and Turki Gazzaz. (Supplied)
Updated 16 min 58 sec ago

Jeddah-based Bricklab wins Art Jameel’s International Design Award

JEDDAH: The Jeddah-based design studio Bricklab — founded in 2015 by brothers Abdulrahman and Turki Gazzaz — has won the Art Jameel International Design Award for its proposed design of Hayy:Cinema.

The cinema will be part of Hayy:Creative Hub — which is set to open in Jeddah next year — and is billed as “the first bespoke home of Saudi and international independent film in the Kingdom.”

The cinema will be part of Hayy:Creative Hub — which is set to open in Jeddah next year. (Supplied)

Bricklab’s design — selected from over 100 entries from around the world, and one of three Arab entries shortlisted — isn’t limited to its 200-seater main screen. It includes an audio-visual library, archive viewing rooms, an additional community screening room, and “educational space.” The designers reportedly interviewed actors, directors and producers from Saudi Arabia and the wider region, and carried out “extensive research” into the history of cinema in the Gulf, before settling on their final proposal.

The jury — which included Wael Al-Awar, co-founder of ibda design, the architects behind Hayy:Creative Hub; Faisal Baltyuor, CEO of the Saudi Film Council; Butheina Kazim, co-founder of Dubai’s independent picture house Cinema Akil; and Ippolitio Pestellini Laparelli from the Office for Metropolitan Architecture — judged all entries blind (applicants were represented only by a number) and praised Bricklab’s proposal for its “incorporation of elements designed to encourage the participation of the wider creative community with Hayy:Cinema.”

Bricklab’s design was selected from over 100 entries from around the world. (Supplied)

The project will contribute significantly to the Kingdom’s burgeoning homegrown cultural scene, something that Abdulrahman Gazzaz spoke to Arab News about earlier this year, saying: “We are lucky to be around at this time when the arts are really being promoted and supported. The community of art is growing, and speaks truthfully to us as a society.”

In a statement regarding the Art Jameel award, the brothers said: “We are excited to contribute to this momentous project which will surely reshape the cultural landscape of the city of Jeddah and Saudi as a whole. We hope to achieve a benchmark project in terms of design excellence which dovetails with outstanding programming.”