La Palestine est à l’honneur aujourd’hui, Dj Ness Afro nous partage son interview du compositeur Akram Abdulfattah (Ramallah / Palestine).
Interview of the award-winning Palestinian music teacher and composer Akram Abdulfattah for the radio show Zidaphone on Ness Radio.
This interview was partly broadcasted on Ness Radio on the 3rd of May with my other distinguished guest famous deejay and record collector Ernesto Chahoud from Beirut. Akram tells a fascinating story of his terrible struggle in East Jerusalem and how he decided to sacrifice his life to save authentic Palestinian culture. Since our interview, the situation has never been worse as an Israeli air raid flattened a building, housing residential apartments and the offices of news-agencies, including Al Jazeera and AP in Gaza. Hundreds of Palestinian civilians have been murdered…
DJ Ness Afro: Although the West claims that the violin came from there (region of Milan), we have enough proof to say that the violin has come from India. And, it was called “Dhanurveena“ says violin maestro Kumaresh Rajagopalan, do You agree ?
Akram Abdulfattah: In my opinion, it’s hard to tell which came first, the Dhanurveena or the Rababa, since we are talking about very ancient civilizations and very minor differences. For example, if we look at the silk road, and how a lot of culture exchange have been happening like sharing food, religion or ideas…. and that is something very important to the developing process of any idea or instrument or culture ..
I would agree that the origins of the violin came from the East. We can see different kinds of ancient bowed one-string instruments in different civilizations along the silk road route like in China, Egypt and Mesopotamia (Iraq today) ..
DJ Ness Afro: Describe the musical heritage of Your childhood.
Akram Abdulfattah: I was born in New Brunswick, New Jersey (USA) and moved here to Palestine when i was 7 years old, to the village of Kawkab, one of the most beautiful villages in the Galilee. This shift was something very hard for me and at the same time it made me who I am.
I was so lucky to spend a big part of my childhood in Kawkab, learning new things and exploring the authentic Palestinian culture and farming lifestyle. Later on, i got introduced to the Darbuka and began to learn how to accompany my uncles and learn all the Palestinian folklore as i also spent a lot of time learning Oud from my uncles and father. My family loves music and most of my 8 uncles played some Oud, it was in the Diwan like coffee.
The “Sham” region is mostly influenced from the Egyptian music, which also considered the music heritage of the whole Arab world. Big names like Mohamed Abdel Wahab, Oum Kalthoum and many others are big part of our life. My childhood in Palestine was important to connect with roots and to learn the music.
DJ Ness Afro: What is the current situation in Kawkab, the village you grew up?
Akram Abdulfattah: It’s a very crucial time for all Palestinians these days. It’s been 73 years of occupation and ethnic cleansing happening. In addition to all the war crimes against Palestinians in Gaza and West Bank, things are escalating very fast these days after what happened in Sheikh Jarrah of Ethnic cleansing and the horror caused by the IDF inside Al-Aqsa mosque, got us all Palestinians to stand together against the occupation and to protect ourselves from the zionist gangs inside some Arab cities like Haifa, Akko, Llud and many more. As a Palestinian living inside Israel, i don’t feel that i’m safe in my village and i never felt that because it’s basically living in your own people’s crime scene. It’s awful and very inhuman.
DJ Ness Afro: Teaching and playing music in Palestine must be an everyday challenge. Have You got any specific anecdotes to share with us?
Akram Abdulfattah: Yes, it’s been very hard and You can’t imagine how hard it is to see your people facing all this injustice and cruelty. All Palestinians living here are feeling insecure and under occupation, it’s a realty where you never know how your day will go. Sometimes it can be a minor accident and still makes an impact on your day or entire life! I feel insecure. We have so much violence as you can read in the news, it is becoming like Mexico.
One night in 2014, i was coming back from a late gig from north Galilee and just about to cross the Qalandiya checkpoint to Ramallah, at that time me and the Awan Quartet were staying in Ramallah for a music project. I still don’t know how it happened, but suddenly i was surrounded by 4 military vehicles pointing guns at me as they broke into my car. They started searching the car violently while i’m still seated and they refused to say anything other than shouting “shut up, shut up!”. I was terrified and it really caused me a lot of stress. Since then i’m always kind of stressed when driving alone .. and i must say this is nothing compared to a lot of Palestinians, living in more sensitive areas. My goal is to save authentic Palestinian culture by any means.
DJ Ness Afro: You won many musical awards and played at the Unesco, determination and perseverance seems to be at the heart of Your success ?
Akram Abdulfattah: It’s definitely hard work, but i always felt like music is my only secure place. Coming from a background where i had to move homes many times and still living under occupation and injustice, i feel like it’s more of a lifestyle that i got used to, it becomes part of your personality.
Of course, it’s a very big challenge to be a musician, living in the middle-east. Also as an instrumentalist musician, i feel it makes it harder since the music scene here is based on the vocals and lyrics. I am happy that after all this years, i feel like a lot of musicians are following this path and making their best to offer other genres of music in Palestine.
DJ Ness Afro: You master perfectly the 6-string violin. How and why did You choose this instrument ?
Akram Abdulfattah: The idea started in 2017. I was looking for a way to have a more wider low range in the violin. I feel very connected to the low notes and i believe it may have something to do with the love of the land .
I tried to use the Viola D’amore from the Baroque Era and it didn’t work for me, until i got the chance to know the amazing violin maker Eric Aceto, who build my 6-string instrument i’m playing. It took me a lot of effort to get control on this instrument, it wasn’t easy at all. It’s like a new instrument and way of thinking..
DJ Ness Afro: How did You come about to form the youngest Palestinian musical quartet ?
Akram Abdulfattah: In 2009 I started forming the Awan Quartet with Ghadi abo Sama’an (Pianist), Luay Abbasy (Oud) and Maen el Ghoul (Percussion) in Jerusalem, that’s where we met and got to know each other. Me and Ghadi where students, coming from the North, living in Jerusalem and it was a really meaningful project connecting and making friends from Jerusalem and also being the youngest professional band to offer original music locally. We had worked together with a lot passion and energy, won two band competitions and recorded our first album “Qarar » in 2014
It was the first official album that had my compositions which gave a big leap to make more instrumental music later.
DJ Ness Afro: Before we talk about your new album “Monologue“, would You tell us how you composed the master piece ‘From Here‘? There is almost a deep house influence to it ? (clip here : From Here)
Akram Abdulfattah: ‘From here’ can be like a statement about existence and « living here ». I wrote this in the year of 2020. It was a very hard year for the whole world and for Palestinians, facing both the occupation
and the Pandemic. I also wanted to have this track to speak to young people too, so technically
it’s 80% using my 6-string violin and a lower bass octave of the violin to make that bass line that i
felt it can be also speaking to young listeners with the kind of groovy feeling.
DJ Ness Afro: Both Monologue and JAWA albums were recorded live. You seem to prefer to record live in one take and then mix in your studio ?
Akram Abdulfattah: Yes, you’re right! so i recorded Jawa in 2016. It was my first fusion project that was kind of my first attempt to make a big step into the instrumental scene and independent music production because earlier that year, i quit from the Pop and Classical scene as a violin soloist and started focusing on my original work and vision. Also coming from a background, where i was exposed to different music and cultures since the early childhood, this idea of west meeting the east was always overwhelming to me and i wanted to make it in the real way, meaning to really meet and have that full culture-exchange of idea in music or life and that i was sure, will bring more meaning and deepness to the project and the message we want to deliver. Of course it was very hard to make it happen as i work independently and had to arrange all the musicians coming here
and all that was really worth it, when you at the end can see a family of musicians, talking together on stage and making this, coming from a real experience.
The “Monologue“ is a wider and more updated music project that can reflect my journey we started working on this since late 2017, and was recorded live in Ma’elia , North of Galiiee on Dec 2019, with musicians from
Sweden and India, and i mixed this project with one of the best Palestinian music producers and sound engineers Karem Matar (Nazareth).
DJ Ness Afro: The opening ‘Kamandja Monologue’ tune is a perfect example of cross-cultural music (Indian,
classical, Jazz rock..), would You say Your music also cinematic ?
Akram Abdulfattah: Yes “Kamandja“ is like an introduction to the sound and music mix we have in the Monologue team. This tune brings different elements that i learned from different places in one arrangement, also trying to implement the idea in my violin playing in that song.
Yes! i Definitely feel my music can be cinematic, I always see a visual or a story/scene that goes with the music moods and the music i write.
DJ Ness Afro: On the very intriguing ‘Devil’s Advocate‘, something totally different happens, how did You
compose that song ?
Akram Abdulfattah: Each song of “Monologue“ has its own idea and sound and i think this song specifically can be unusual and maybe experimental in some parts. It has a very dark mood and i also experiment in the
Taqseem (The art of improvisation in Arabic music) and Maqam in the last part of the song as part of the feeling i want to deliver.
DJ Ness Afro: The reggae ‘Mouj el Bahar’ has that Pink Floyd bass line and subtile violin arrangement as
well as the beautiful voice of Samah Mustafa. How did You meet and come to collaborate with her?
Akram Abdulfattah: In this track we bring the reggae music style in fusion with Arabic Vocals and Palestinian folk music and lyrics. I am very honored to be working on this track along side the magical voice of Samah Mustafa and the amazing Fathya Khatib, a well-know folklore preserver from Galilee. Mouj el Bahar mean the sea waves and it expresses longing, love, pain.. and also talks about our shared stories of traveling across oceans for hope and better life. One love from the Caribbean sea to the Mediterranean.
Samah and me met during our first music degree in Jerusalem and that’s where our relationship started. I’m so lucky to have her in my life, she’s an amazing artist and vocalists and friend and wife and so happy that artistically we could share a lot in common, specially when it comes to vocal and instrumental and how to think of voice as an instrument and part of a bigger sound.
DJ Ness Afro: Tell us about Your musicians in your band. How did You meet the incredible tabla player Rupak Dhamankar, for example ?
Akram Abdulfattah: The “Monologue“ band is more like a family to me, we all know each other since years back and have been working on different projects in different places..
In this international band im happy to have two of my dearest friends who also founded Awan Quartete, Maen el Ghoul, a well know percussionist from the city of Jerusalem and Ghadi Abo Samaan, amazing pianist and musician from north of Palestine. Also in this project joins me from Sweden: Gunnar Backman on fretted and fretless guitar and live, Per Andres Skytt on drums and Viktur Router on double bass. Me and this crew have been doing music since 2013 and they have been a big part of my success. And finally Rupak Dhamankar the amazing tabla player and percussionist who i met in India. We played together in a duet concert in Mumbai 2018, and since then we have become friends and i was happy that we could make this project happen, despite the distances.
DJ Ness Afro: Is there anything you would like to add about your music and your philosophy of life?
Akram Abdulfattah: I feel like the world is like one body, it’s like one big city, where it’s very connected and full of similarities. Music taught me that! I believe that all cultures have been influenced from each other. I am focusing on the idea of making music without borders, physically or artistically. I am very ok with breaking the norm and trying new stuff, focusing on making instrumental music since 2009 and trying to build the instrumental scene as part of the music image of Palestine and its people’s feeling and stories. It’s my duty to make art in the militarized place.
Hopefully music and culture will help us at least to go through these hard times.
Interview by DJ Ness Afro with the help of Jazzmadass
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