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6Qs with Trumpeter-Composer Ibrahim Maalouf //

01.28.10
byAnuja Madar

Trumpeter and composer Ibrahim Maalouf has music in his blood. His father, after realizing that adding a fourth valve to his trumpet would allow him to play the half-sharps and half-flats required to translate Arabic musical scale — invented the very quarter-tone trumpet Maalouf plays today. His father and Beirut roots are evident inspirations to his sound, which can be described as somewhere between Arabic, jazz, and world music. Maalouf was recently in New York City, where he performed (his first-ever in the city) to a packed house at the NYC Winter Jazz Festival, and took the time between meetings, recordings, and performances to answer a few questions.

STATS:
Only one song for the rest of your life: I’d do a secret remix of a Fairuz song with a hip-hop rhythm, build on a Gustav Mahler symphony, and pretend I didn’t know it was a remix.
One thing you must take with you when you travel: My trumpet.
If you weren’t a musician, what would you be? A journalist.

Ibrahim_Maalouf_7

1. Music runs in your family, and both your parents are musicians. What can you tell me about them and their influence on both your decision to become a musician and your sound?
My father is of course my main influence since he taught me how to play trumpet, how to improvise, and how to play Arabic music. He invented the quarter tone trumpet, which is the instrument I play the most today. Everything I compose is inspired by my father’s music. Arabic culture is what I’ve been raised in, and since I was born in Beirut I feel really close to my original culture. My mother is much younger than my father (he was born is 1940, she in 1957), so her culture is more about dance music (The Beatles, Rolling Stones, etc). Her generation was listening to this music in Lebanon, so she brought me modern and occidental music; this is probably as important to me as the rest. In 1988 she bought me my first disc, “Bad” by Michael Jackson. I never stopped listening to it.

2. Your family left Lebanon and you grew up in France. How did this impact your life both personally and musically?
We left Lebanon when I was a child, but I lived a big part of my life there, too. Until I was 16 we used to spend three to four months each summer in Lebanon, even during the war. I’ve seen terrible things in my country, and growing up in Paris has always felt like a huge privilege. It’s led to one of my philosophies, and I always use every single moment to try and live the happiest way possible. I’ve seen people sad and suffering for too long. I’ve seen people humiliating others. I’ve seen people’s houses completely burned. I can’t imagine my life like this. I believe that all of this has probably had some impact musically, but I can’t really say what. I feel that in my music there is something that carries happiness even if it can also be nostalgic. But I try to never be sad in my music—unless, of course, it’s for a soundtrack of a sad movie.

3. You recently performed as part of the NYC Winter Jazz Festival, which was your first-ever performance in New York City. What can you tell me about the experience?
It was really great. I was first disappointed because my band didn’t get their visas, so I had to come alone and play solo in front of professionals and friends who were going to listen to me for the first time, and in front of jazz lovers.

I’m not a jazzman, so it wasn’t easy, and when I started to play people were drinking beer, talking loud, laughing, etc. But suddenly everything stopped, and for the next 45 minutes people listened to me until the end with incredible attention. I was amazed. It was probably the first time an audience listened to me so carefully. I was really touched.

4. You’ve worked with some pretty big names, from Sting to Talvin Singh. Who are you hoping to work with in the future and why?
My dream would be to write music for movies, and my albums are composed with a soundtrack feel. I would also like to produce singers’ (pop, hip-hop, Arabic fusions, jazz) albums. I can’t really say any name since I’ve already worked with so many great people, but…

what I can tell you is that I’ve been meeting and playing with amazing musicians all over the world, totally unknown, and some of them are so talented that I wonder why they aren’t more famous than many famous people who really have nothing to do with art.

5. You compose all of your own music. What is your process like and where do you get inspiration?

When I compose I have only one rule—not to forbid myself anything—so I just do.

I record an idea, and if it sounds good, I keep it; if it doesnt, I erase it. Then I build things slowly until it starts to sound like music. If I like the music, I keep it, if I don’t, I put it on a hard disc and listen to it later. There’s really no concept to my albums, only music for music. My main influences are Arabic traditional singers and musicians, but also electronic, hip-hop, pop, Indian, African, jazz, and classical music.

6. You have two albums out (Diasporas and Diachronism) and are currently working on your third. What can people expect?
I’ll probably not (and hopefully never) do an album that people expect, simply because I don’t really know myself what I’m doing. I might know a few weeks before the music is finished, but even until the very end of the composing process everything can change. Most people I played my two albums for during the work on them didn’t recognize the music once it was released. What I can tell you is that Indian music will be certainly part of it, and hip-hop and traditional Arabic music, too.

Check out our review of his recent show in NYC >>

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About the Author: Anuja Madar is an editor at Frommer’s travel guides, where she specializes in the Middle East and Africa, and is constantly plotting ways to fill her passport’s pages and/or move to Morocco.



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