An introduction to 6 parts – Neil van der Linden 

I started approaching this project from several points. Firstly drawing on progressive Middle Eastern music – such as the ‘artpop’ of Zeid Hamdan[1], and Yasmine Hamdan[2], also Dhafer Youssef[3] and Mahmood Schricker[4] (an Iranian living in Canada), also Kayhan Kalhor[5]’s experimental albums and Dariush Dolat-Shahi[6]. Then I worked back. When I thought of a boat project, I immediately was taken to the tragedy of the hundreds of ships or boats that take refugees from the Middle East and North Africa to the West today. Just that day another boat full of migrants had sunk off the coast of Lampedusa. I had also just been looking up Franz Liszt La Lugubre Gondola, an ode written to Venice where Richard Wagner, a companion of Liszt, had just died, and in a way this eerie piano piece was a lugubrious soundtrack to the tragedy of that day.

The Wagner element is a Leitmotiv in this set, and in fact through all my musical taste. Thinking about this project for Venice, there was the association to his death in Venice (and there is another piece by Liszt included, named Richard Wagner, Venezia), and Wagner’s own last piece, the opera (or rather sacred stage play as he named it himself), Parsifal[7]. A benchmark in my musical taste is Wagner’s mastery of harmonic development and his Parsifal, much like Anish Kapoor[8]’s way of abandoning space and time—there is a reason that Pierre Audi[9] (Lebanese-Dutch head of the Dutch National Opera) in his staging of ‘Parsifal’ used Kapoor as the set designer. In this case I included some fragments of a recording in Italian of Parsifal, which might be an alienating surprise for part of the audience in Venice, as Wagner is almost without exception associated with heavy-tongued and heavy-handed German. But in this case the enlightening element comes from the supercast that sang the work on this recording from 1950, with a young and radiant Maria Callas, plus Boris Christoff, Rolando Panerai among others, conducted by the Italian master Vittorio Gui[10].

Part of all this was propelled forward for me when I was a DJ and I started to play the iconic and groundbreaking My Life in the Bush of Ghosts by Brian Eno and David Byrne[11]. Notably the trackRegiment with a then still analogue sample from a recording by Dunia Yunis[12], a ‘Lebanese mountain singer’ as the album referred to her. At that time Lebanon was at complete war. The track was so evocative and mysterious with the reference of this ‘Lebanese mountain singer’ that I wanted to go there, but assumed I probably would never go. Eno and Byrne are for me, examples of European and American artists taking MENA music elsewhere and dismantling then reassembling it.

Holger Czukay’s[13] assembly of Iranian music does the same, and the principle is also being practiced by a wide range of Middle-Eastern artists, like Dariush Dolat-Shahi for Iran, Hello Psychaleppo[14] from Syria, Zeid Hamdan from Lebanon and Tashweesh[15] from Palestine, including the group’s rapper and genius producer on his own title, Boikutt[16].

I used Debussy and Ravel as examples of ‘Orientalists’ in classical European music, and I chose them because they did more than include an oriental sounding melody in the compositions. And also as otherwise there would have been an Orientalism in Western classical music mer á boire. Mozart[17], Handel[18], Tchaikovsky[19], Rimsky-Korsakov[20], Saint-Saëns[21], and so many others used Oriental references. But Debussy and Ravel[22] really got embedded in them and emulated them. Moreover in pieces like La Cathédrale Engloutie, Pagodes and Une Barque Sur L’Ocean, both go to the utter edges of tonal expression and orchestral colouring to express their ideas, which, thanks to their mastery, are pleasantly vague, but worked out through to the detail. Also both Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde[23] andParsifal by Wagner of which I use excerpts, partly in piano transcriptions, have references to the Orient in their texts, as both myths are related to Middle-Eastern mythology, aspects Wagner helped to unearth by explicit literary references.

There is a whole sea of Middle-East influences in jazz, but I omitted them, for the sake of time and space really – for example, Miles Davis[24] and John and Alice Coltrane[25]. I had no intention of compiling an Orientalist music catalogue. But I included one track by the great jazz-funk piano master Joe Zawinul, who played with Julian ‘Cannonball’ Adderley, Miles Davis and his own group Weather Report, and later in his life could be found at the Essaouira Festival in Morocco, jamming with gnawa[26] master Hamid Kasri[27].

 

Music from:
Brian Eno & David Byrne
Richard Wagner in Venezia
Dariush Dolat-Shahi
Hello, Psychaleppo!
Holger Czukay Persian Love
Homayoun Shajarian
Kayhan Kalhor
Hamid El Kasri, Joe Zawinul & Karim Ziad
Zeid Hamdan
Yasmine Hamdan

 

 

[1] Zeid Hamdan (Beirut, Lebanon) is the music producer behind some of the most successful bands on the Lebanese and regional alternative scene.
[2] Yasmine Hamdan (Beirut, Lebanon) is a Lebanese singer, songwriter and actress, now based in Paris. She became known with Soapkills, the duo she founded with Zeid Hamdan while she was still living in Beirut.
[3] Dhafer Youssef (Téboulba, Tunisia) is a composer, singer and oud player. He developed an interest in jazz at an early age and clandestinely listened to it during his education at a Qur’anic school.
[4] Mahmood Schricker (Tehran, Iran) is based in Toronto where he mixes Iranian traditional instruments and vocals with electronic elements.
[5] Kayhan Kalhor (Kermanshas, Iran) is an Iranian/Kurdish Kamancheh player, composer and master of classical Kurdish and Persian music.
[6] Dariush Dolat-Shahi (Tehran, Iran) blends computer tones and ambient sounds from nature with the Persian stringed setar and tar.
[7] Parsifal is an opera in three acts by Richard Wagner (1813 – 1883,  Leipzig, Germany). It is loosely based on Parzival by Wolfram von Eschenbach, a 13th-century epic poem of the Arthurian knight Parzival and his quest for the Holy Grail.
[8] Sir Anish Kapoor, (born 1954, Mumbai, India) CBE RA is a British-Indian sculptor. Born in Bombay, Kapoor has lived and worked in London since the early 1970s when he moved to study art, first at the Hornsey College of Art and later at the Chelsea School of Art and Design.
[9] Pierre Audi (born 1857, Beirut, Lebanon) is a French-Lebanese theatre director and artistic director. Since 1988, Audi has been the artistic director of the Dutch National Opera.
[10] Vittorio Gui (1885 – 1975, Rome, Italy) was an Italian conductor, composer, musicologist and critic.
[11] My Life in the Bush of Ghosts is a 1981 album by Brian Eno and David Byrne, titled after Amos Tutuola’s 1954 novel of the same name. The album was re-released in expanded form in 2006.
[12] Dunia Yunis (Beirut, Lebanon) was a singer who appears on the LP “Music in a World of Islam, 1: The Human Voice”. Her voice was sampled by David Byrne and Brian Eno, MARRS, Yello and The Orb among others.
[13] Holger Czukay (born 1938, Danzig, Poland) is a German musician, probably best known as a co-founder of the krautrock group Can. Czukay is also notable for creating early important examples of ambient music, for exploring “world music” well before the term was coined, and for being a pioneer of sampling.
[14] Hello Psychaleppo – Hailing from one of the most mystical and musically rich cities in the Levant: Hello Psychaleppo is deeply rooted in oriental music tradition with blends of electronic music.
[15] Tashweesh (Ramallah, Palestine) is a sound and image performance group, which brings together installation artists Basel Abbas and Ruanne Abou-Rahme and musician boikutt, in a performance that combines sound, music and image.
[16] Muqata’a a.k.a Boikutt (Ramallah, Palestine) is a Beat-Maker and MC. He is part of the Ramallah Underground, a collective that aims to rejuvenate Arabic culture by creating “music that Arabic youth can relate to” – Boikutt
[17] Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 – 1791, Salzburg, Austria) was a prolific and influential composer of the Classical era.
[18] George Frideric Handel (1685 – 1759, Halle, Germany) was a German-born, British Baroque composer who spent the bulk of his career in London.
[19] Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840 – 1893, Votkinsk, Russia) was a Russian composer whose works included symphonies, concertos, operas, ballets, chamber music, and a choral setting of the Russian Orthodox Divine Liturgy.
[20] Nikolai Andreyevich Rimsky-Korsakov (1844 – 1908, Tikhvin, Russia) was a Russian composer, and a member of the group of composers known as The Five.
[21]Charles-Camille Saint-Saëns (1835 – 1921, Paris, France) was a French composer, organist, conductor and pianist of the Romantic era.
[22] Claude-Achille Debussy (1862 – 1918, Saint-Germain-en-Laye, France) was a French composer. Along with composer, pianist and conductor Maurice Ravel (1875 – 1937, Ciboure, France), they were one of the most prominent figures associated with Impressionist music, though both of them disliked the term when applied to their compositions.
[23] Tristan und Isolde is an opera, or music drama, in three acts by Richard Wagner to a German libretto by the composer, based largely on the romance by Gottfried von Straßburg.
[24] Miles Dewey Davis III (born in Santa Monica, California, U.S., died in 1991) was an Afican-American jazz musician, trumpeter, bandleader, and composer.
[25] Alice Coltrane (1937 – 2007, Los Angeles, California, U.S.) was an African-American jazz pianist, organist, harpist, and composer, and the second wife of jazz saxophonist and composer John Coltrane (1926 – 1967, Hamlet, North Carolina, U.S.).
[26] The Gnaoua World Music Festival is a Gnawa music festival held annually in Essaouira, Morocco.
[27] Hamid El Kasri (born 1961, Ksar El Kebir, Morocco) is a Moroccan performer of Moroccan Gnaoua style (Gnawa music is a rich repertoire of ancient African Islamic spiritual religious songs and rhythms.)