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6Qs with Qanunist Ali Amr //

byMarwa Helal

Picture_2When you think of the qanun, you probably think of classical Arabic music. And when you think of classical Arabic music, you probably think old. But at 18-years-young, qanunist Ali Amr will change the idea you have of the qanun. Raised in Palestine, Ali now studies at Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts where he is working on blending the Eastern sound of the qanun with everything from Jazz to Spanish Flamenco…

Qanun and Voice
Song: “Felasteen” by Najat Brigui
Movie: Jenin, Jenin

1. What comes easier to you — the qanun or singing?
Throughout the years, I’ve worked hard on both instruments and balanced the time I spent practicing on each, to keep both of them alive and up to date. And now after 11 years I’ve reached the level where I feel that my qanun is an extension of my vocal cords, and most of the time while playing qanun, I sing the melodies I’m playing to feel it more.

2. It’s obvious music has always been part of your life — how has that made you who you are?
Music indeed has always been a very important part of my life. And since childhood it has been a major part of my identity.

Sometimes I imagine if I never found music, or music never found me, my life would have taken a very different path.

Music has cleared my soul, added happiness and confidence to my life. And it also opened up my mind to absorb diversity and look at things differently. And this has created a sort of sensitivity inside me towards any piece of art. Therefore, I’m very happy with the results.

3. What is the role of the qanun in Western music?
Qanun is a purely Eastern instrument in comparison to the violin, flute, or clarinet that are major instruments in both Eastern and Western music; being used in orchestra and the Arabic ensemble (takht sharki) as well. Before joining Berklee College of Music, I was focusing on learning Arabic music and going in depth to learn all the skills and knowledge in that deep ocean and only listening to other styles. After joining Berklee and getting exposed to all these different kinds of music, I felt it was a big loss not being aware that all those kinds of music existed, and this lack of information I believe is a problem that should be solved in Palestine. But now, I feel that Arabic music has made me unique and special. Qanun has a very special timbre that fits with different styles of music. And now at Berklee I’ve played with many different ensembles and styles such as South American, Middle Eastern, Turkish, Indian, Brazilian, French Folk music, African, Spanish Flamenco, Jazz, etc. Many professionals admire this merge.

4. Do you ever get homesick? And how do you deal with it?
Yes, of course I get this feeling and miss my family and my friends whom I spent special times with. During the day with all the work at school, I don’t even get the chance to think. But every night when I put my head on the pillow, I fly back home and remember all the great times with them. And the most critical times when I really need them around is when doing a great concert. I always feel that their seats are empty.

And I miss all the positive energy they give me. And I deal with this, with more hard work to make them proud.

5. What can we look forward to from you in the coming years?
Everyday I gain more knowledge, and I learn about new music and cultures.

I’m working as hard as I can to represent my culture and our rich music in the best possible way. And we will see where this will take me. I always enjoy surprises.

6. If you could compose a soundtrack for any movie, which would it be and why?
I would compose a sound track for a documentary about my country. There is a lot of sadness in my soul towards all the suffering, the terrible daily events and the world’s silence against peace…

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