Natik Awayez finds strength in numbers

Natik Awayez is set to launch his debut album “Manbarani” this month. Supplied
Short Url
Updated 15 October 2020

Natik Awayez finds strength in numbers

LONDON: Natik Awayez vividly recalls the diverse music scene that dominated his formative years in Amarah, southern Iraq. The Egyptian scene was an ever-present influence, but the lyricist, composer and oud player also points to the importance of Lebanese, Syrian, Yemeni, Moroccan and Algerian music as he grew up.

“I feel fortunate to have grown up in an era full of diversity, difference and experimentation,” Awayez tells Arab News from Cairo, ahead of the launch of his debut album, “Manbarani,” due for release late this month.

“It was in this atmosphere that I was getting more enthusiastic about music. I started going to places that musicians would go, attending music events, reading a lot, listening a lot. I began to learn the oud from music teachers in Amarah, and became involved in the youth community band. It was clear early on that I was learning the oud for the sake of composing. I composed a song from the first maqam I learned!”




Awayez moved to study philosophy in Bulgaria, where he continued to develop musically. Supplied

In 1979, Awayez moved to study philosophy in Bulgaria, where he continued to develop musically. “Coming to Bulgaria at an early age was amazing, a new, energetic freedom blew up inside me after the social conditions back in Iraq,” he recalls. “Bulgarian music is very distinguished, and has been subjected to many cultural interventions throughout the ages. It’s difficult to live in Bulgaria without being influenced by its music.”

After his studies, some of Awayez’s Yemeni friends suggested he come and find work in their country, in which he had long been fascinated. The opportunity was too good for him to pass up and he moved in 1981.

“I stayed in Aden for several months,” Awayez says. “I tried to get a job in music, but I did not know anyone and no one knew me. In a job interview with the Education Authority, I was told there was a vacancy in Bayhan, in the middle of the desert. I said yes.”




After his studies, some of Awayez’s Yemeni friends suggested he come and find work in their country. Supplied

His exposure to Yemeni music was, in Awayez’s own words, “a positively violent shock.” “They play the oud as if they are outside the limits of physical nature, underpinned by complex rhythms brimming with hidden magic. Everything is simple, and almost impossible at the same time,” he says.

It turned his perception of music on its head and, after 18 months, Awayez moved to Abyan to found a band of musicians affiliated with the Yemeni youth association. Here, he refined his skill at composition while working with local musicians. He moved to Sweden in 1986, and once again sought out collaborators and threw himself into the musical culture. Awayez founded The Art Consulate in 2013, an independent organization focused on establishing intellectual dialogue between Europe and the Middle East, which led him to move to Cairo in 2015.

To say that Awayez’s musical journey has been globetrotting is the height of understatement. The culmination of that development is his seven-track debut record. Awayez and producer Maurice Louca called on some of the region’s best-known musicians, including Tamer Abu Ghazaleh and Maryam Saleh (Louca’s bandmates in Lekhfa — Awayez describes the latter as “the most important songwriter and singer in the Arab region”), Aya Hemeda and Adham Zidan (of Egyptian band The Invisible Hands), Khaled Yassine (of Lebanese trio Malayeen) and violinist Ayman Asfour.

“We chose musicians we admired and appreciated,” says Awayez. “‘Manbarani’ describes the journey of a displaced person chasing manifestations of notions connecting being, homeland, love and God with places. There is a common denominator in that each song developed from a vague musical fragment, a small piece of four or six verses that I composed at some point in time.”




Lekhfa in Denmark. Supplied

Awayez gave Louca — whom he has collaborated with for many years — creative license to have the featured musicians contribute their own character and ideas. “I didn’t consider it my role — nor did I seek to — to refine or polish Natik’s sound,” says Louca. “He’s an amazing songwriter and when he approached me to work on his songs, my inclination was to highlight the musical ideas and emotional expressions already present. When it came to the arrangements and production, I wanted elements that would avoid overshadowing just how beautiful and rich the songs already were.”

Awayez is full of praise for each and every musician on the record. “It is work that draws its energy from Iraq, its pulse from Yemen, and its soul from Egypt,” he enthuses. “You may hear unusual musical compositions, and you may find artistic components interacting with each other for the first time. Listen to it with an open heart, and without preconceptions.”


Music icon Cher meets Pakistan PM ahead of elephant’s move

Updated 27 November 2020

Music icon Cher meets Pakistan PM ahead of elephant’s move

  • The famed singer has for years campaigned for Kaavan the elephant and is helping pay for his move
  • Cher tweeted that she thanked Khan “For Making It Possible For Me To Take Kaavan To Cambodia”

ISLAMABAD: American pop icon Cher met Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan on Friday ahead of the relocation of an elephant from Islamabad’s dilapidated zoo to a Cambodian sanctuary.
The famed singer, who has for years campaigned for Kaavan the elephant and is helping pay for his move, arrived in the Pakistan capital this week to see the animal before the flight to Cambodia on Sunday.
“Appreciating her efforts in retiring Kaavan to an elephant sanctuary, the prime minister thanked Cher for her campaign and role in this regard,” a statement from Khan’s office read.
Cher tweeted that she thanked Khan “For Making It Possible For Me To Take Kaavan To Cambodia.”
The plight of Kaavan — an overweight, 35-year-old bull elephant — has drawn international condemnation and highlighted the woeful state of Islamabad’s zoo, where conditions are so bad a judge in May ordered all the animals to be moved.
A team of vets and experts from Four Paws, an Austria-based animal welfare group, has spent months working with Kaavan to get him ready for the journey to Cambodia.
Experts have trained Kaavan to enter a large metal crate that will be used to transport the animal to the airport.
Volunteers working with Kaavan say he responds well to music and singing, and Cher is expected to belt out a song or two for the elephant before he departs Islamabad.

Related