Orient Express with its six musicians from the Netherlands, Iraq and Lebanon, will perform a concert Wednesday at Al Madina Theater in Beirut, according to the Daily Star.
Using music to bridge the cultural divide, Orient Express has toured the Netherlands, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan.
“We are just starting,” Lebanese singer Rima Ksheish told the daily, adding, “This is a long-term project.”
The Dutch musicians had toured Beirut three years ago with their jazz band, the Yuri Honing Trio. They played classic jazz tunes with their own interpretations added in.
Then in Beirut, they brought in a local musician to perform one song. “We rehearsed for maybe half an hour before the show, that was it,” Ksheish recalled. But the result was so impressive that the beginnings of a new group, Oriental Jazz, was born.
Back in the Netherlands, they built a group with twelve Iraqi musicians, but the project failed. “The group was too big, there was no communication between the musicians,” bassist Tony Ovlawates explained.
For all of the musicians, it was their first time creating music with such a multi-cultural group. Ksheish usually performed classical Arabic music, “and it was my first time presenting Oriental Jazz here in Beirut.”
She feels that this kind of music is “more free and rich” than classical Arabic music. On Tuesday night, well-known Arabic tunes were performed, as well as jazzy variations on the techno songs of Icelandic singer Bjork, during which Ksheish improvized in Arabic.
“This is just the kind of music I had been looking for,” bassist Ovlawates said. “It’s something new in jazz.”
He likes the melodies and the dramatic expressions of Arab-influenced jazz, which is quite different to play than purely Western jazz, especially on the bass. “There’s nothing like it.”
After their concert in Beirut three years ago, he bought an oud and began studying it back in the Netherlands. “I can transfer some of this newly gained knowledge to my bass playing,” he said. “I get my inspiration from the oud and djose players, but then I transform it into something of my own.”
He said that the group wants to avoid the cliches of Arab and Western music and be as authentic as possible. “We always try to go to the source, in order to create something new,” the bassist added. “This is why we keep the quarter tones as well as the slides of classical Arabic music, which I can perform very well on my bass. For the saxophone player, this is much more difficult.”
And, he emphasized, Arabs and Europeans playing music together is more than just communication. “We found a common ground to live on.”
Touring through the Netherlands in September, after the attacks on the World Trade Center, it was important for the group to show that cultural integration is possible. Ovlawates said: “We feel very comfortable being here.” – Albawaba.com