Molouk Y. Ba-Isa, Arab News
Publication Date: 
Tue, 2008-05-27 03:00

ALKHOBAR, 27 May 2008 — Music is such a magnificent form of communication that some claim it is an international language. In the 21st century there are many means to spread music’s message — CD, data streaming, radio, live performance — to mention just a few. But in past millennia, it wasn’t so easy. Music has probably been a part of human culture for at least 50,000 years, but for much of that time, live performance was the only way for a composer to share the notes in his head with others. There was no method for music notation.

Ideas about the history of music composition and notation were forever changed in the 1950s, when excavations of the ancient city, Ugarit, what is now modern Ras Shamra on Syria’s Mediterranean coast, uncovered cuneiform tablets that date back to about 1400 B.C. Among the tablets were three fragments of a single tablet in various states of preservation. That text consists of Akkadian terms written in Ugaritic Cuneiform script and is the oldest known preserved music notation in the world. The clay tablets also contain instructions for a singer accompanied by musicians, as well as instructions on tuning instrument strings.

The interpretation of the music notation of Ugarit is a challenge and several “reconstructions” have been published. The evidence that both the 7-note diatonic scale as well as harmony existed 3400 years ago is contrary to most musicologists’ view that ancient harmony was virtually impossible. The discovery at Ugarit has revolutionized previous notions about the origin of Western music, but this is known only to a limited audience of scholars.

That is about to change with the release in Fall 2008, of Malek Jandali’s “Echoes from Ugarit,” produced and published by Soul b Music. The CD will feature original piano and orchestral works composed by Jandali and performed with members of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. Legendary producer Eddie Horst, who works with Bruce Springsteen, lent his talents to the project as well. The album will be distributed online through CD Baby and through Virgin Megastores in the Middle East and around the world.

Jandali, an Arab American, was born in Germany, but grew up in Homs, a small city in Syria. His parents loved music but weren’t musicians themselves. They did their best to encourage Jandali’s talent, taking him and his older brother Rami to concerts and both boys took piano lessons at the Jugendmusikschule in Germany.

“Then we moved to Syria and I continued with private music lessons. There was no music school in Homs at the time, so I had to travel to Damascus to get my weekly piano lesson on Thursdays at the Arab Conservatory of Music,” said Jandali. “It was a two-hour one-way trip to get my music lesson. I spent the night at my Aunt’s house when I couldn’t find a train or bus ticket back to Homs. At first, my mother accompanied me, but later on I traveled on my own and made many friends. I had to practice extra hard to meet the expectations of the music director at the time, Sulhi Al-Wadi. Much of the credit for developing my talent belongs to my parents, especially my mother.”

That he was talented became clear to all when Jandali won the first prize at the National Young Artists’ competition, and then in 1995 at the age of 19, he received a full scholarship to the United States to pursue advanced studies in music at the North Carolina School of the Arts (NCSA). Years of study followed culminating in a Masters degree from the University of North Carolina.

While his love of music began with classical arrangements at the piano, Jandali has embraced the technological side of music as well. Now based in Atlanta, Georgia and married for the last decade to his “wonderful wife Yasmine,” this artist has set up his own studio so he isn’t dependent on the resources of others to pursue the paths in music which he finds important.

“I should clarify that the excellence and availability of today’s music technology allows almost anyone to have a professional-grade ‘studio’ either in or built around their computers,” Jandali advised. “In the traditional art music concert world, technology has little impact except in the areas of recording and sound effects. However, in film music and the commercial world, technology has been thoroughly embraced and so a very large percentage of the various genres that make up this category involve technology as a matter of course.”

According to Jandali, digital technology has affected music in the areas of music production, storage, distribution and consumption. Digital technology also makes home music-making possible as never before.

“Fortunately, the availability of recordings and the Internet are breaking down the industry barriers, allowing people to cross artificially established lines. MIDI File-sharing has helped bring more people around the globe a taste for a wider variety of music — which, in the long term, will increase overall sales” Jandali remarked. “And since I think I’ve lost many Arab News readers with that comment, let me explain that MIDI stands for ‘Musical Instrument Digital Interface.’ It’s a communications protocol introduced in 1983, that allows electronic musical instruments, computers and other equipment to communicate, control and synchronize with each other. It’s a very powerful tool.”

Digital technology was essential in the creation of “Echoes from Ugarit.” First, Jandali extensively researched the cuneiform tablets of the music of Ugarit. Then he did some initial arrangements of the music for solo piano.

“Later I arranged it in my Atlanta studio using a state-of-the-art sequencer combined with the latest sound design equipment and software,” said the composer. “The last step was to orchestrate the work and produce scores using Sibelius, which is in my opinion one of the best music notation softwares in the industry. ‘Echoes from Ugarit’ includes 12 original compositions for Piano & Orchestra and the first arrangement of the 3,400 year old music notation of Ugarit.”

Jandali is very enthusiastic about sharing his talent and culture with people everywhere. His home online is at He is currently in the process of adding the latest technology to the website to enable visitors to download both music and video. He also believes that social networking is a great way to capture an audience without the need for a contract with a record label or a distribution company.

“If you are on Facebook I invite you to join my group ‘Malek Jandali – Composer & Pianist’ and join my fans,” said Jandali. “I want the world to know that Ugarit, Syria is the birthplace of music and harmony. I am a very passionate artist and composer. A part of me goes into every piece that I create. When the audience listens to the pure music in Echoes from Ugarit, I want them to feel as though they are listening to what is in my heart. Hopefully, the music will mean as much to them as it does to me. This album is a unique work and I believe that people all over the world will relate to it.”


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