New Music by Jordanian, Palestinian, Iraqi and Lebanese composers


22. - 23. October 2004 Pergamon Museum, Berlin





Migration and Identity: Perspectives of Contemporary Music in Arab Countries.

Paneldiscussion in cooperation with the Berliner Soceity for New Music (BGNM)


Participants: Mounir Anastas, Agnes Bashir, Karim Haddad, Saed Haddad, Iyad Mohammad, Samir Odeh-Tamimi, Mohammed Uthman Sidiq


Moderator: Oliver Schneller


October 23, 2004, 6:30-8:00pm, Pergamon Museum - Gate of  Ishtar



Oliver Schneller: Der diesjährige Schwerpunkt der Frankfurter Buchmesse lag auf arabischer Literatur. Filme wie Elia Suleimans "Divine Intervention" oder Hanny Abu Assads "Rana's Wedding" liefen mit grossem Erfolg an deutschen Kinos. Vor kurzem eröffneten die Staalichen Museen zu Berlin eine grosse Sonderausstellung zum Thema "10,000 Jahre Kunst und Kultur aus Jordanien". Die arabische Kultur und Kunst wurde uns in diesem Jahr in Deutschland sehr gegenwärtig, was in einer Zeit der erhöhten politischen Brisanz dieser Region umso wichtiger erscheint. Als Beitrag im Bereich der Musik möchte ich ihnen das Projekt "TRACING MIGRATIONS. Neue Musik von jordanischen, palästinensischen, irakischen und libanesischen Komponisten" vorstellen. Im Mittelpunkt stehen Arbeiten von neun jungen arabischen Komponisten, deren Werke in zwei Konzerten in Zusammenarbeit mit dem Ensemble United Berlin zu hören sind. In der nun folgenden Podiumsdiskussion mit den anwesenden sieben unserer neun Komponisten geht es um das Thema "Migration and Identity: Perspectives of Contemporary Music in Arab Countries". Ich möchte kurz die Struktur der Diskussion erläutern. Ich habe die Teilnehmer gebeten, jeweils mit einer kurzen Stellungnahme zum Thema anzufangen. Auf der Basis dieser "statements" werden wir dann diskutieren und gegen Ende der Veranstaltung auch Fragen aus dem Publikum aufnehmen. Die Diskussion findet in Englisch statt. Ich darf also zunächst Agnes Bashir bitten anzufangen. Agnes Bashir is originally from Tbilisi in Georgia but has lived most of her life in Iraq and Jordan. She studied composition in Moscow, then moved to Baghdad with her husband, the Iraqi violinist Fikri Bashir. In 2000 she founded the "Arab Alliance for Women in Music", which I believe, she will refer to in her statement.


Agnes Bashir: My countries are Irak and Jordan. For most of my life I've worked in the field of education. From my experience in teaching Arab student musicians I observed that a real sense of Arab identity seems to have been lost throughout the centuries. Only in the twentieth century, even only during the past thirty, forty years, with the establishment of institutions for music and a genuine commitment to musical education, the situation is beginning to change. Traditional music has existed all this time but it had not been codified or institutionalized in any way. With the accessibility of Western-style education there also came the sense that we "as Arabs" should create something of our own. My experience stems mainly from the 70ies and 80ies, from my time at the Music and Ballett School in Baghdad, the establishment of which I was participating in. This school was a unique institution in the Arab world. The interest and demand was so great that we had to turn down applicants. There was a feeling of discovery, or re-discovery, of our very own subjects. Many of our ballett creations and performances  adapted  themes and subjects from Arab literature and history. And this is also how I myself came to write music, specifically for the symphonic orchestra of Baghdad. Some of my works incorporate elements from Arab culture as well as musical gestures from European  Romanticism. I was always conscious of thinking about the audience that would be listening to this music. This is an audience which is not at all used to modern music. What prevails is a familiarity with traditional music and only occasionally European music. We held competitions for musical performance, which became a means of finding and gathering musicians from all regions. After the first Gulf war many Iraqis moved to Jordan. Here we established the ARAB ALLIANCE FOR WOMEN IN MUSIC. This is a collective of women who are involved in music. Its aim is to encourage younger generations, boys and girls, who show an interest in music. So I believe education is really at the base of the formation of any sort of identity in our region.


Oliver Schneller: Mounir Anastas was born in Bethlehem. Since 1984 he has lived in France where he studied composition with Iannis Xenakis and Horacio Vaggione. Besides his work as a composer he is the musical delegate of the Palestinian mission at UNESCO in Paris. 


Mounir Anastas: A few points beforehand:  I think the term "migration" holds different meanings. There are political, cultural, economic and social implications which are often interrelated. Some people leave their countries to study abroad, some leave because of the political situation, some because of economic circumstances, and so on. There is an interaction between migration and the construction of personal identity. In Europe you are probably aware of this this phenomenon, due to the many immigrant groups living here in Germany, France or the UK. I won't talk about migration as a social, political or economic topic, but rather in relation to cultural and artistic identity. In Arabic music today, and Arab society, one can observe a scientific and technological gap. Fortunately there is a new generation today which is much more in touch and at ease with new technologies. This generation is contributing to the transfer of technology to society. Unfortunately, if we look further for perspectives, in the contemporary Arab world of music, there still exist many problems. There is a rather dominant hierarchy for solving problems in Arab countries, and music certainly is at the bottom of the list. That is my first point: the political problems influence everything in daily life: economics, social structures,  academia , culture, and the psyche of people. This is the most important thing. The thinking about and perception of anything is marked by political conditions. I am talking as a Palestinian who has lived  in Palestine for twenty years, followed by twenty years in Europe. If we would make the comparison it would be very obvious. Let's take anybody, "Mr X" from Gaza, for example.  "Mr X", like many Palestianians  from Gaza, has never heard of symphonic music. He has never even watched a film in a cinema, and his kids don't even know what a screen is. This is the gap I am talking about. There are some people who have the economic means , but even more, who don't. And there is always this political problem.

Fortunately some people, in spite of this, are always looking forward and trying to go beyond these walls, because really we are looking outwards from inbetween walls. What about identity then? How is it constructed?  For somebody like me, living in Europe, the situation is quite different. In France I have encountered a society where there exists an active interest in culture, not only from the side of the population, but also from that of the government and the politicians. There is a budget for culture, for music, for theatre. In the Middle East there is no budget. You have to understand the priorities. First there is health, logistics, then education. There are so many more priorities, I can't go through all of them. But I think it's clear how these elements work together and how it comes to influence not only your identity but your way of thinking about music .

Now, for me personally, when I arrived in Paris in 1984, I encountered  the music of Iannis Xenakis for the first time and was deeply impressed. Because this music for me was the music I was hearing inside my head during the war. As a kid I bought the first model of a walkman with a recording function. I used it to record  the sound of nearby gunshots and tank fire and afterwards  listen to these recordings,  as if they were music. Much later, when I first heard the music of Xenakis, I thought: this is the music I have been looking for! Sometimes negative things can give you positive impulses. That was a negative influence from my childhood whose output, however, for me was very positive. In tonight's concert we will hear an electronic piece of mine called  Sentence funebre. It's a piece  against the death-sentence . I think it is not so innocent for a Palestinian pleading against this kind of sentence. We understand  what this means and I was interested  in this kind of theme.

I believe that all those musicans who have come in contact with Western Europe, especially its culture, have a duty to transfer  this knowledge to the Arab world. We have some progressive people, not only musicians,  but also artists from other disciplines, who are interested in pushing forward and advancing Arab society, in spite of everything. Like Agnes Bashir, like Mohammed Uthman Sidiq, and others. Today this is still a minor movement. But regarding long term future perspectives  for the Arab world I am - personally speaking - optimistic. I think due to the increasing facility of communication and transport, which diminishes distances between countries, we will manage very quickly to fill that gap - the scientific gap, the technological gap, and also to catch up musically.


Oliver Schneller: Karim Haddad, born in Beirut, has studied in his native city as well as at the Sorbonne in Paris. Next to his work as a composer he develops software at the IRCAM where he has been employed since 1999. 


Karim Haddad: For me the problem nowadays lies not so much with the migration of people, but rather with the phenomenon of migrating cultures: knowledge, cultural values, art and communication - everything is in motion.  Mounir Anastas gave an example about people in Gaza. This is not an innocent example, since there exists also the discrepancy between intellectual knowledge and cultural poverty. It is related to economic poverty, which is at its base. For me as a musician, I have thoughts about it, but I don't actually regard  this as an essentially musical problem. The musical problem for me in the context of a discussion on identity is that I don't believe in the creation of any decisively national musics. I think national issues in music are a thing of the 19th Century, with composers like Smetana, for instance. It was the era of the modern national state and with it the rising of musical nationalism. Today we have a different situation. We have the internet, improved telecommunication,  which lead to a growing network of cultural exchange and even a migration of cultures. Cultural contents are beginning to disassociate themselves from geographical localities.  So in a certain sense, I  think we are all living here in Berlin. Like this beautiful gate here [points to the Gate of Ishtar situated behind the panel] is really  for everybody. It is just as beautiful here as it was in ancient Babylon. Furthermore, we're rather fortunate that it's not in Iraq now! Probably it would have been damaged or stolen. I think art is for everyone. And we are all bound to migrate and communicate.  And that is all I want to say right now.


Oliver Schneller: So we continue with Saed Haddad, who is Jordanian, studied composition in Israel and at the moment lives in London, where he is working with George Benjamin as a fellow at King's College.


Saed Haddad: Being a Christian Arab and a Western contemporary music composer, I identify myself  as an "other" within the Western cultural context. However, I find myself also as an "other" within my own cultural heritage (where contemporary music does not exist, and is neither understood nor appreciated). This otherness has been one of the enriching sources of my various compositions and has been the place where questions of migration and identity have been paradoxically answered.

The Western musical analytical education has helped me to reflect upon my Arabic heritage in finding new relationships inside the Arabic scales (al-maqamat) and mastering the art of time through the exploration of relationships that Arabic rhythms suggest. A further reflection upon heterophony offered me a dialectical view on unity and multiplicity. This dialectic was inspired not only by Arabic musical heterophony, where the "one-liness" is the production of the multiplicity of instrumental colours, but also by a theological reflection upon the Holy Trinity, where a multiplicity of the personages "creates" one God.

Moving from the philosophical to the geographical, I believe that the musical scene in my native country, Jordan, is still far away - spiritually, intellectually, materially, and even historically - from the creation and practice of contemporary music. In Jordan a Western traditional Classical musical education started only some twenty years ago. A good performance  of a composition by Haydn, for instance, has not been mastered yet and therefore we can't even begin to speak about facing the challenges and complexities  that contemporary music asks for. Audiences are still far away from an intellectual and spiritual insight of what art is about, and educational systems face all kinds of financial, professional, administrative and organizational difficulties.

This leads me to refer again to the state of strangeness or otherness I identify with. This otherness became for me a new home in which art transcends reality. It became an inspirational dilemma between being a part of, while not belonging to the whole, between the openness toward the other and the refusal of the other, and finally between being myself and being able to renounce myself.


Oliver Schneller: Iyad Mohammad, a Jordanian composer, has studied in Minsk, authoring a thesis on the work of Helmut Lachenmann, and currently teaches at The National Music Conservatory in Amman, Jordan.


Iyad Mohammad: I'm a Jordanian composer, Jordanian of Palestinian origin. My father is a Palestinian from the West Bank. I am only half Jordanian since my mother is German, so I am half German. I studied in Minsk, Belarussia, and I think this is important since Russia, as a third culture, had an impact on my cultural orientation. On questions of identification and identity: I think that a person who is an "Arabic composer", is always based on a duality. Perhaps even a contradiction because as a composer, even an Arabic composer, he associates with a phenomenon of Western culture. "Composers" of Eastern cultures are by definition very different. This is due to the fact that the creative act -  the act of composing as we understand it here in Europe - is itself part of the Western way of thinking. So the way we think, the way we understand and work with music, the way we understand the musical elements is probably a completely Western way of thinking. The category itself of creating and composing a piece as we generally understand it, is a Western category. If we agree that the most important thing in a composition is the way we work with the musical elements, then I believe that simply using Arabic elements, such as particular scales and rhythms, while retaining methods and techniques derived from Western music, will not render a composition more "Eastern" or "Arabic" in any way. In other words, I think that if one wants to use different, culturally heterogeneous elements in a composition, one can't simply go about this by using Arabic elements in a Western way. If a composition is "split" in this sense - culturally and in terms of  heterogeneous materials  - this will result in a clash between those elements. We have to then show clearly what is Eastern and what is Western. And if we do that, then this precisely would be what the composition is all about. So I think that such a duality, expressed in a composition, could be an inspiring force for a composer provided he is able to probe it creatively and turn it into a specific world view or aesthetic.


Oliver Schneller: Samir Odeh-Tamimi, born 1972 in Tel-Aviv, Palestinian, studied music in Kiel and Bremen

and currently lives in Berlin.


Samir Odeh-Tamimi: Ich möchte vielleicht doch einen anderen Weg gehen und nicht direkt über Formen und Musik reden. Überhaupt, die Frage der Identität, das ist nicht etwas, was mich nun zwangsweise seit zwölf Jahren beschäftigt. Ich bin der Einzige auf diesem  Podium hier, der noch nie in einem arabischen Land war. Ich bin Palästinenser, bin aber in Tel Aviv, in Israel, geboren. Und schon damals, mit 12 Jahren, war mir klar: ich war in meiner eigenen Heimat fremd. Ich fühlte die Fremde schon damals und - ob nun bewusst oder nicht - befand mich bereits auf der Suche nach Identität. So habe ich mich als kleines Kind immer sehr zurückgezogen . Zwar lebte ich in Tel Aiv, Jaffa und dann auch in einem kleinen Dorf. Aber mit der anderen Seite haben wir eigentlich in Israel auf kultureller Seite fast nichts zu tun. Das heisst, wir kommen mit europäischer Kunst und Kultur kaum in Kontakt. Für mich hiess das: es lieb mir nur die Beschäftigung mit unserer alten Kultur. Wichtig war hier für mich, dass ich aus einer Familie von Sufis komme. Mein Grossvater war einer der letzten Sufis in meiner Familie. Ich denke, dass mich das als Komponist stärker interessiert und geprägt hat als die alte arabische Musik. Ich habe einen Satz von Mahmoud Darwish gelesen: "Nur die Fremde lehrt mich wer ich bin". Und da habe ich verstanden: ich muss gehen. Und so bin ich nach Deutschland gegangen, was sich fast zufällig entwickelt hat. Ich wusste damals nicht, was "Neue Musik" war. Ich kannte nicht einmal Schönberg. Ich wusste von Beethoven, mehr nicht. In Kiel habe ich zunächst einmal Musikwissenschaft studiert. In der Bibliothek ist mir dann ein Streichquartett von Schönberg in die Hände gefallen. Da begriff ich, dass es etwas Anderes gab. Ich habe damals noch nicht komponiert, fühlte aber das Bedürfnis danach, wusste aber gleichzeitig nicht was ich komponieren wollte. Schönberg war 1951 gestorben, ich suchte aber nach lebenden Komponisten und habe dann angefangen Zwölftonmusik zu schreiben. Ich entdeckte Lutoslawski und fing an, ihn naiv zu imitieren, was mich krank gemacht hat! Bis ich dann meine Lehrerin, Younghi Pagh-Paan kennengelernt habe, die mich durch ihre Liebe und durch ihre Erfahrung dazu gebracht hat, mich mehr mit meiner Identität zu beschäftigen. Das war ein sehr schwieriger Prozess. Was ist denn meine Identität: bin ich jetzt ein Israeli, ein Palästinenser oder ein Araber? Die Frage, ob ich ein Araber bin spielte bei mir eigentlich noch keine Rolle. Und Palästinenser: was bin ich denn als Palästinenser, was weiss ich denn überhaupt? Dann lernte ich bei ihr, dass man sich nur durch die Erinnerung finden kann. Ich bin nach Hause gegangen und habe angefangen zu suchen: was ist das? Ich habe mich an meine Kindheit zurück erinnert, was ich dort musikalisch erfahren hatte, was mich angegriffen hatte, was mich begeistert hatte. Ich habe dann begonnen mich mit Korangesängen zu befassen, aber nicht nur um "etwas gefunden zu haben". Die Korangesänge hatten es mir angetan. Es gibt einen sehr berühmten Koransänger aus Ägypten, Scheich Abdel Basset, der eine bestimmte Form entwickelt hatte, die meiner Meinung nach zu einer der grössten Kunstformen der arabischen Geschichte gehört. Zu Abdel Basset habe ich eine bestimmte Beziehung. 1982 waren die Massaker von Sabra und Shattila, da war ich noch klein. Als wir die Nachricht bekamen, dass das passiert war - ich lebte damals noch in dem kleinen Dorf Jaljulia, bei Jaffa - haben alle Menschen ihre Lautsprecher in die Fenster gestellt und Abdel Basset gespielt - das Dorf bebte. In dem Nachbardorf  war es dann noch lauter. Das waren Klänge, die in mir hervorgerufen worden sind, und die niemals gestorben sind, durch all die Jahre hindurch. Aber das hatte ich nicht gewusst, daher: die Kraft der Erinnerung. Nun habe ich sechs Jahre bei Younghi Pagh-Paan studiert und während dieser Zeit auch versucht Korangesänge mit und ohne Computer zu analysieren. Ich habe versucht mit Akkorden zu arbeiten, also mit Harmonien, in harmonischen Folgen zu denken, etwas, was mir sehr fremd ist. Es hat mich krank gemacht. Durch die Beschäftigung mit Abdel Basset und seiner Musik habe ich verstanden, dass ich linear denke, dass meine Musik eben linear ist. Ich hatte etwas gefunden: linear und nicht harmonisch. Dazu kam der Klang der sufischen Gebete, wie in meinem Trio "Li-Umm Kamel". Ich bin als Komponist, der seit 12 Jahren in Deutschland lebt, nicht auf der Suche danach, Europa und Arabien miteinander zu verknüpfen. Auch interessiert mich die Frage nicht, ob ich nun ein arabischer Komponist, ein palästinensischer Komponist, oder ein deutscher Komponist bin. Ich bin ein Palästinenser. Ich bin ein Araber und ich bin jemand, der seit 12 Jahren in Deutschland lebt. Und das geht auch alles nicht an mir vobei, das heisst, die Geschichte der europäischen zeitgenössischen Musik trage ich auch in mir. Und ich bin unendlich dankbar, dass ich hier sein darf und dies alles hier kennengelernt habe. Das ist alles etwas, was mich auf den Weg gebracht hat, meine eigene Musik neu zu entdecken,  und nicht etwas zu suchen oder irgendwelche alten Formen oder Modi in der europäischen Musiktradition aufzudecken, die ich dann mit meiner eigenen Musik verknüpfen könnte.


Oliver Schneller: Mohammad Uthman Sidiq was born in Bagdad, studied in Moscow and returned to Iraq to work with the Iraqi National Symphony Orchestra  whose conductor he was from 1991-94. Today he lives in Amman, Jordan.


 Mohammed Uthman Sidiq: Thank you. As an Iraqi musician, I never studied composition professionally. I am a piano soloist. In 1987 I finished my studies in Russia and went back to Baghdad. During the war between Iran and Iraq  I served in the army and then in the 90ies became the conductor of the Iraqi National Orchestra . In 1993 I had to flee to Jordan because of the war and have been working there since then. As a musician I have had the opportunity to study both Western and some Arabic music. My higher education has been focused on Western music but as an Arabic musician and composer  there was a part of me that was saturated with the sounds of our country, our culture and identity. I started composing in a more modern setting but using the sounds of traditional instruments. It was like taking old instruments out of their traditional contexts and introducing them to the world as "performance instruments"  that can be confidently placed next to the instruments and sounds of the world. My idea is to create a dialogue between Western and Arabic music. In his statement Mounir Anastas said that you can meet Arabs who do not know what a symphony is. Well, by the same token I would say you could meet a German musician who wouldn't know what samai means - a certain form in Arabic musical composition. In Arabic music we have a very rich collection of instruments like the nai, the qanoun or the ud. I think these  instruments deserve to play a larger role in contemporary music. In their traditional usage these instruments play a background role. They sit behind the singer and usually play the same melody. The players of these instruments are very bad sight readers  because they usually just play around the same maqam as the singer. My interest lies in involving them more in composed music. For example, I wrote a concerto for nai and orchestra. The nai player was an excellent musician. But it was very difficult for him to study two lines of music. So I worked extensively with him. He studied my music and in the end he followed it very well. I also did this with musicians playing the ud and qanoun. I think that for me as an Arabic composer and musician it is important that we give our music more of a role in the world. There are such beautiful tuning systems, maqams and rhythmic colours.


Oliver Schneller: Many thanks to all of you for your statements. In our aim to trace migrations in the biographies of the composers present we have encountered not only personal stories of migration but also cultural, stylistic and aesthetic considerations. The word "migration" surely not only covers its dictionary definition, the movement of people, a people from one locality to the other, but carries implications reaching from categories of form and style to states of "inner migration" brought about by changing relationships to cultural tradition and orientation or the re-emergence of personal memory. One common theme that I've noticed in the statements by the speakers is the emphasis on knowledge. The history of Arabic music, which is tied to the history of a vast geographical area stretching from North East Africa,  Egypt, Sudan, Sinai, the Near and Middle East, to the Arabian peninsula, is itself subdivided into a multitude of local cultural practices. During the Abbasid and Omayad periods the theoretical codification of Arabic music began, developed further  through the writings of Avicennas  and Al Farabi, for instance in the areas of rhythm and ornamentation. Islamic music has been researched by numerous ethnomusicologists in Europe, where it is also taught at universities and hopefully an awarness is beginning to spread about just how much of our symphonic instrumentarium we owe to predecessors from the Arab world.  So this is a category of historical knowledge that is currently rather present in our scene. As I mentioned yesterday before the concert, we have today access to many genres of traditional Arabic music, especially here in Berlin. However, one conception that Western listeners might have - and that may well be a misconception -  is that Arabic music and, more generally, Islamic music is "static" in the sense that it is bound to its forms of traditional practice. There are the tahsin, for example, the rules of ornamentation, or the rules of the taqasim-style of improvisation that seem to be relatively fixed in their codification. But, if this is at all like this, are there elements of this heritage that can actually be developed further by composers like you? And if yes, do you have an interest in this? Many of you have already spoken about this and some of you were rather sceptical, for various reasons... But asked again to the point, how would you assess the potential of this theoretically loaded body of the material of Arabic music in your process of composition?  Are there ways to incorporate it and develop it further? Or do you react against it, or even against this notion altogether? Goodness gracious, this is such a European thing to ask, isn't it?


Agnes Bashir: I believe that Arab culture as a whole is yet a rather unexplored area. It has a huge potential, because for centuries people have been passing on music, orally, without even writing it down. Only today musicians and musicologists are collecting tunes and rhythms, like Nimr Sirhan's work on Palestinian folk music for example. This culture is very rich in itself and potentially it could be a huge repository for composers. This is the good thing about our meeting here: you get to know composers who are living in Arab countries  and composers who have emigrated and now live in the West. And it becomes clear,  that there exist different approaches  in dealing with our common musical heritage. For those living in Western cultures I suppose dealing with new technologies and aesthetics is of primary interest. And for us, who live in the Middle East, it's about dealing with the public and trying to educate  this public to accept a new and possibly intellectual art. It is much more difficult. We can't afford to distance ourselves too far from traditional music, a music that lives on in absolutely everyone there. So this gap between high technology, "progress", and cultural awarness in the West and the East can only be approached  by moving step by step.  One must include expectation in the calculation: what can you expect from people who grow up solely on traditional music? You can't immediately introduce them to the art of the 20th Century, when they have hardly started to accept listening to classical music! So it is here that I sense a psychological problem because you need to let people realise and appreciate  all the cultural gifts they have from history first, before you move on. And many Arabs themselves  don't know their own cultural history.


Karim Haddad I admit there is a knowledge gap about ancient Arab music because translations are not available. And even the great books by Al-Farabi are difficult to find in their original version. I found a copy in Paris, but in Beruit it is impossible, especially after the war. But one thing you must take into consideration is that knowledge about the past is not a typically Arab problem! For Europeans - and I am also half-European -, we don't know our Adam de La Halle, our organum etc. very well either. Sometimes this is also a problem of translation: the notation is not in modern notation. So not everyone understands the music of the middle ages. We can take Gregorian chant, for example, and it's the same.


A. Bashir: But in Arabic countries there is a problem of access. An Arab student should be able to research about how his heritage developed. There simply is a lack of educational infrastructure.

K.Haddad: But what is knowing knowledge? You can spend your whole life -

A. Bashir: Why does an Arab child grow up not knowing his own culture?

K.Haddad: Because of economic problems.

A. Bashir: I agree with you, but we need to solve this cultural question.


Oliver Schneller: Let me pose a question to Iyad Mohammed who spoke of the notion of "duality" he's experienced  as a Jordanian-German composer studying in Minsk. You spoke of the difference  in the meaning of what "composing" signifies in Arabic and European culture. If, as a composer, one were to somehow operate with both concepts, the Arabic and the Western , do you think this could help audiences in Arab countries to appreciate your music more? Would they recognize elements that they are familiar with and thus have a thread to hold on to when listening to your music? I am asking for your opinion because I've attended a few concerts of "classical" music in Amman and noticed mostly Western listeners, expatriots, in the audience. I was wondering whether this was, aside from mere  interest, also a question of the processing of musical language. How do you see the chances to bridge the knowledge gap so that one day there will be predominantly Arabic audience members coming to your concert?


Iyad Mohammed: I don't know - I think this is very difficult and I dont have much hope of getting an audience for my own compositions in Jordan. It is difficult, but it would be advantageous if we'd initially manage to increase audience attendance for purely classical concerts. As you said, it's mainly the foreigners who come and perhaps some wealthy locals, who see the concert as a social event. It's not really about the music. But for contemporary music I don't think we're getting anywhere in a long a time.     


Oliver Schneller: Samir Odeh-Tamimi , what do you think?


Samir Odeh-Tamimi:

Formell-musikalisch gesprochen ist das schwierig. Zunächst: ich würde niemals etwas einfach übernehmen um irgendwie musikalisch damit zu arbeiten. Ich habe fast zwei Jahre lang daran gearbeitet, um herauszufinden, was mich an arabischer  traditioneller Musik wirklich interessiert. Erstens ist das die Form, diese unglaublich intensive Art etwas zu tun - also ein Gebet, nicht in der Stille. Es gibt ja viele verschiedene Formen des Gebets: es gibt Menschen, die sehr still beten, es gibt Menschen die sehr intensiv beten, Menschen die sich hingeben, Menschen die sich ins Feuer schmeissen, alles Formen des Gebets. Für mich ist es auch so etwas ähnliches. Aber arabische Hörer  würden nicht sofort verstehen, dass es um Korangesänge geht. Wahrscheinlich würden sie mich ersteinmal angreifen, weil ich überhaupt dieses Wort benutze: "Korangesang". Das ist eine sehr schwierige Sache, wenn man über Koran und Religion mit  Musik verbunden in dieser Art spricht. Das ist es ein bisschen gefährlich. Aber ich werde die Hoffnung nicht verlieren!


Mounir Anastas:  

Two points on the status of art in general and especially of music in terms of religion. The dominant word of the Arabic world is "Islam". In the Islamic religion there is a rich musical heritage which we can't call "music", unfortunately.  Formally we actually can't call it "Korangesang" - we should say Q'uran tajwid, a special word that does not exist in any other language. It's rather contradictory because this is very fine music, a kind of psalmody.

Like the Sufi, this is an extra-Koranic culture of several levels, that Samir knows better than I do. But unfortunately and paradoxically in one part of Islamic culture music is harram - religiously forbidden. It's a contradiction, because when you listen to the Koran being read or chanted it is very musical and very refined,  but you don't have the right to consider it music! So there is one part of our musical heritage. We have a very heavy, rich musical heritage with a strong link to Byzantine liturgy and even Greek orthodox liturgy.    

There are still a number of contradictions in the entanglement of religious and musical practice, intensified by the social status of different members of the population, who have different perceptions of the musical status in society. Let's roughly say the majority of the population, with not much acces to higher education, still consider music to be harram, forbidden.

This reference is not in the Koran, but in one of the hadithe, the different speeches of the prophet Mohammed, and in a fatwah, derived from it. When there was a problem that was not treated in the Koran, muslim clerics found a solution in the form of a fatwah. There is another fatwah that is advantageous to music, as it actually states that music is not harram after all. But then there are still people who would rather follow the hadithe, because they consider a hadith more authoritative than the more recent fatwah... And on top of that is the social hierarchy that can be detected  not so much in the middle classes but in the lower classes: here they think music is ok. The reality is, we can find music everywhere.  They all listen to music. And the upper classes not only listen to music but encourage its production. But they are in the minorty, so once again it's a problem of knowledge. I think we as Arab composers, whether Christian or Muslim or mixed - like Iyad Mohammad - are all influenced in one way or the other by this culture. And as for the question about musical traditions, whether they can be advanced or not: no one forbids any composer, whether he is European or not, to use any element from any culture. This is even a tendency considered  "normal" in contemporary music. Think of Messiaen's use of the deci tala, or Xenakis using structural principles of Balinese and Javanese music. Or think of Beethoven. He incorporated  popular tunes in his music. But the point is that once he used them in his music they ceased to be "popular" music, in a certain sense, and instead became part of the structure of a composed musical artifice. In terms of "advancing" our own Arabic musical tradition: I think we can't imitate or reconstruct  the trajectory of European history. We can't go back, take everything in our tradition and say, "OK, we'll start here and then in two centuries we'll reach polyphony, then dodecaphony, then aleatoricism and then we will be modern or post-modern!"


Publikumsfrage (Helmut Burkard):

Aber wie ist es mit der Verpflichtung der eigenen Tradition gegenüber? Sie sollten sie als arabische Komponisten nicht vernachlässigen.


Samir Odeh-Tamimi:

Ich fühle mich als arabischer Komponist nicht dazu verpflichtet, arabische traditionelle Musik nach Europa zu bringen. Der berühmte Lautenspieler Mounir Bashir hat sich hier verdient gemacht und ich bin ihm dafür sehr dankbar. Aber ich glaube wir gehen hier und heute einen total anderen Weg.


Publikumskommentar (Dr. Martin Schneller):

Something which struck me in this discussion is that normally we relate emigration and exile almost instinctively to something rather negative. It has the connotation of loosing one's home, one's roots and so on. I found it impressive that some of the panelists here expressed  the experience of exile and migration as something quite positive. Mr Saed Haddad mentioned  his "otherness"  as a source of enrichment, Mr Iyad Mohammad discovered a creative potential in his "duality" of cultural orientations, while Mr Tamimi quoted Darwish: "Nur die Fremde lehrt mich wer ich bin". Perhaps these indications point towards a new definition of migration, perhaps even exile, as an element of global thinking, a mindset that will define the future of our societies.


Mounir Anastas:

Two points on the dialogue between Orient and Occident. The preservation of the tradition. I agree with Samir Odeh-Tamimi: it's not the contemporary composers duty to preserve the tradition as it is. There are certain musicians and musicologists, also from the West, who do an important and excellent job here. And yet, if some of us feel we want to use traditional elements, nobody should forbid it. But in no way is this our obligation. We're all in agreement in regard to the first point:  the preservation of tradition is important. The second point concerns the dialogue between East and West and this is a harder question, complicated by political and economical  problems. They lead to an imbalance compared to Europe: we don't yet have orchestras, ensembles or institutions, or any other means to spread our music around the world, while Europe has a long tradition of exporting its culture. It's a material question. In the Arab world there are unfortunately still other priorities.



Transcribed by Joni Taylor

Edited by Oliver Schneller