CAIRO: “Contemplating my faraway homeland/Has long been a habit of mine/Some prefer repose/I crave motion.”
Palestinian musician Kamilya Jubran sings these words (in Arabic) on her latest collaboration with Swiss producer, composer and trumpeter Werner Hasler. The album — ‘Wa’ — was released in November, and the pair recently performed it in Haifa, Ramallah, Alexandria and Cairo.
It features Jubran on oud and vocals and Hasler on trumpet and electronic instrumentation as they “continue to interrogate their listening and their expression, their research and their desires, to unravel a musical universe of possibilities,” according to the press release, resulting in, “a unison of timbres, cultures complementing, the complicity of verses, and modes and languages confronting each other.”
Jubran is a prolific collaborator. Aside from the music she makes with Hasler, she is currently working on a new project with French singer and musician Sarah Murcia — set for release next year — and continues to work as the artistic director of the Zamkana Association, which she co-founded in 2014 in Paris and which she tells Arab News “aims to encourage new and young projects from the Arab world and beyond. We provide artistic accompaniment and encourage creativity and secularism.”
One of its most ambitious projects is Sodassi (sextet), which brings together some of the most exciting performers in alternative Arab culture: Youmna Saba, Dina El-Wedidi, Maya Khaldi, Ayed Fadel, Rasha Nahas and Sama’ Abdulhadi. According to the project description on Facebook, the six artists “interrogate their musical heritage, their relation to digital, their aesthetics, and (the evolution of) musical writing, of micro-tonality, of improvisation, and of rhythmic language, among other issues.”
For now, though, Jubran’s focus is on ‘Wa’ (which translates literally as ‘And’, but — as Jubran explains — “could be seen as a process of questioning and/or an answer in and of itself”). The ambitious album consists of a single, 45-minute-long composition that is based around a traditional compound musical form known as ‘wasla.’
“We knew we had a [powerful] effect on the audience whenever we planned our live concerts as a continuous performance, by either playing more than one song without a pause or linking two songs that were somehow similar,” Jubran tells Arab News. “When we started working on ‘Wa,’ Hasler and I wanted to produce a continuous composition, so that instead of an abrupt pause between tracks, we would have a buildup (of sounds). That’s how the idea of playing a wasla came about.”
The lyrics reflect this buildup. They begin with a meditation on nomadism as a way of life, move on to examine personal suffering and tension — including the contradictions between affability and aloofness, and conclude with a contemplation of the concepts of space and time. Apart from text taken from an 11th-century poem called “Affability,” Jubran wrote the lyrics herself.
“This is my first attempt writing song lyrics. I started off by charting the words that summed up my daily reality — I thought of the first thoughts that come to my mind upon waking up every morning and tried to map a visual relationship with every word,” says Jubran, adding that a “taboo” still exists over the use of standard Arabic and the extent to which “people should take risks and bring in their own work.”
The lyrics play on multiple contradictions and suggest several associations. “Each word takes us a bit further, each feeling lets us experience a more difficult one,” says Jubran. “Take, for example, the buildup of associations here: ‘Fate, boredom, hope, drenched, but, kisses/ Rushing kisses, eager kisses/ Sweat tears, drowning drench/ reluctant waves, drained waves.’” In Arabic, the construction of these lines — each word building on the foundations laid by the previous words — is clearer.
Jubran and Hasler first collaborated in 2002 and ‘Wa’ is their third studio album as a duo (they have worked on other projects together with other people in that time too). Their latest release is a natural progression from their earlier work, and it’s also clear that — as they begin their 18th year of working together — the two musicians have developed a level of understanding and trust that can only come over time.
‘Wa’ is music unfettered by caution or concern about ‘target markets.’ It is the sound of two musicians who have discovered “a common space to play and experiment,” which Jubran says was their aim from the very beginning.
“When Hasler and I first started working together, we both knew that we weren’t interested in creating ‘fusion’ (music) or soft music highlighting (themes) of peace and love,” Jubran explains. “We’ve discovered each other’s worlds, and it is this knowledge that allowed us to trust each other and to become more courageous (in our pursuit of ideas).”