What are the best Arabic jazz fusions

Qantara.de - Dialogue with the Islamic World

During the Cold War, jazz music was an important cultural resource for Americans to use to inspire the world. What was once considered to be songs for the struggles and hardships of black men has developed into a global popular music genre. And not only that: Due to the social and political developments, jazz music was elevated to a "high art" in which only the most talented and creative musicians were successful.

In the Arab world, too, jazz in its diverse forms continues to inspire generations of musicians to this day. However, the influences that made "oriental jazz" great are based on mutuality: modern jazz musicians and teachers turn to world music and especially to Arabic music in order to fill their own work with new life. A notable example of this is Lloyd Miller's album A Lifetime in Oriental Jazz (A life for oriental jazz), which was reissued in 2002.

The elite bands from Cairo

It is not new that jazz is experimenting with Arabic music: Yehya Khalil, the "godfather of oriental jazz", founded the Cairo Jazz Quartet back in 1957 at the age of fourteen - the first jazz band in the history of Egypt.

After his band was very successful, Yehya traveled to the United States to study music. Through contact with countless prominent representatives of the jazz world, he was able to expand his knowledge and musical skills and years later played in over twenty countries.

During this time the pianist Fathi Salama also founded the Egyptian formation Sharqiyatthat combines jazz with Middle Eastern nuances. His music is characterized by a combination of folk and jazz, and one of his most famous albums, Camel Dance (Camel Dance), is still one of the best albums of this genre worldwide. Another band that became famous in the Egyptian jazz scene is Eftekasatthat combines jazz with folklore and Sufi music.

The poet Khalil Ezz El-Din once said that after the Egyptian war of 1973 - and especially from 1974 to the mid-1980s - the independent Egyptian bands could have had experiences similar to the American jazz formations. The band enjoys a special status in this phase Les Petits Chats with Omar Khairat on drums and Ezzat Abu Aouf on keyboards. Their music is still one of the most important milestones in Arab jazz history.

Les Petits Chats were not particularly successful in Egypt at the time, as they did not really meet the taste of the people, which is why their popularity was mainly limited to the Cairo elite. Rather, the market was dominated by the renowned singer Ahmed Adaweyah with his Sha'abi songs, which were popular among all classes of the population.

Film music andJazz fusions

Ezz El-Din notes that it was Tamer Karawan who revived jazz in the early 2000s. He composed works such as "El hayat law le'ba" (If life were a game) for the film "Geneneit el asmak" (The Aquarium) from 2008, in which the singer Sheikh Zain Mahmoud appears. Ezz el-Din believes that outside of Karawan's contributions, jazz played only a very minor role in Egyptian films. Only in films like "Leh Khaletny Ahebak" (2000) were short jazz passages used.

Last but not least, the Egyptian singer Mohammad Adaweyah must also be mentioned. After all, he has the two albums Men Kelmetein and El Tayeb Ahsan which, according to El-Din, are heavily influenced by jazz.

One of the most important jazz experiments in the Arab world so far was the music of Ziad Rahbani, who released several albums and worked with various Lebanese singers such as Salma Mousfi, Rasha Rizk and Joseph Sakr. With his works, including Besaraha, El Ra'y el 'Am and Dawerha Dor, he has significantly expanded the Arabic understanding of jazz.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s and after the civil war in Lebanon, oriental jazz was one of the most popular styles of music in Lebanese society. It was very well received there, which helped the genre to gain more attention in the Arab world as a whole. Another renowned Lebanese jazz composer is the saxophonist Toufic Farroukh, who is known for combining Arabic soundscapes with jazz motifs.

With her three released albums Hal Asmar Ellon, Shamat and Ghazal El-Banat Lena Chamamyan is a leading jazz singer in Syria in her country.

In Sudan, on the other hand, Amira Kheir, also known as "the diva of the Sudanese desert", introduced an unmistakable style of Sudanese jazz music. This is melancholic and melodramatic at the same time and is influenced by the atmosphere of the desert and Sufi sounds.

And last but not least, the Moroccan Malika Zarra has written a piece of jazz history with her music, as she successfully managed to combine Gnawa and African music elements with jazz.

Amani Emad

© Rasseef 22

Translated from the English by Harald Eckhoff