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.”


Holocaust-based film ‘to screen at Red Sea Film Fest’

Updated 19 February 2020

Holocaust-based film ‘to screen at Red Sea Film Fest’

  • The Jonathan Jakubowicz-directed World War II film will mark the first time a film that explores the Holocaust will screen in the Kingdom
  • ‘Resistance’ tells the story of mime artist Marcel Marceau, who joins the French Resistance at the beginning of World War II in order to help save the lives of 10,000 Jewish orphans

DUBAI: Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea Film Festival unveiled its inaugural movie lineup this week, with a few surprises on the list, including Holocaust-based film, “Resistance.”

The Jonathan Jakubowicz-directed World War II film, starring Jesse Eisenberg as Marcel Marceau, who was a member of the French Resistance, will mark the first time a film that explores the Holocaust will screen in the Kingdom.

The significance was not lost on film aficionados, who took to social media to congratulate the Venezuelan director.

“Congratulations @JoJakubowicz I am very proud of all your achievements,” one user wrote. “A geopolitical achievement. Good job, Jonathan!” another user tweeted. 

“I think it’s a promising move toward artistic freedom,” Makkah-based Saudi filmmaker Talal Wassmy told Arab News when asked what the implications of the screening would be.

Meanwhile, Abdullah Yahya, a Saudi film critic for movie-focused website filmphoria.com, added that “it is a great cultural shift toward a less prejudiced mindset. I am glad we are no longer beholden to one narrative when it comes to history.”

The biographical drama tells the story of a young French actor, Marcel Marceau, who joins the French Resistance at the beginning of World War II in order to help save the lives of 10,000 Jewish orphans from Nazi forces in France.

Marceau, who was also famous for being a mime artist that delighted audiences for decades as “Bip,” used his miming skills to keep the orphaned children comfortable and quiet during the risky smuggled escapes to Switzerland.

“The kids loved Marcel and felt safe with him,” the late actor’s cousin and commander of the French Resistance, Georges Loinger, told the Jewish Telegraph Agency in 2007, after Marceau’s death.

“The kids had to appear like they were simply going on vacation to a home near the Swiss border and Marcel really put them at ease.”

The full cast of the film includes Edgar Ramírez, Clémence Poésy, Bella Ramsey, Matthias Schweighöfer, Géza Röhrig, Karl Markovics, Félix Moati, Alicia von Rittberg and Vica Kerekes. 

The film will be screened in Saudi Arabia before it is released in the US on March 27.