Anouar Brahem performed at Cemal Reşit Rey during CRR Jazz February on the 23rd of February.
It is sometimes hard to attend a concert after Friday’s rush hour. One barely makes it to the concert thanks to the Istanbul traffic. The wariness of the week can be overwhelming during the concert. One feels sad, wishing he could have a higher level of energy and perception in order to be swept up in the music. Some concerts, on the other hand, are exceptions. Yes, this was one of those situations. This evening unfolded differently even though I could feel the effects of the busy week. There was no traffic, making it easy to reach the concert venue and I forgot about my how tired I was and embraced the notes as if they were treasures, feeling awake with every melody. Anouar Brahem grabbed us by the hand and took us away to different worlds and different feelings. And we didn’t feel bored even for a single second during this journey.
Let’s get to know the music man who took us on this journey before we move onto what happened during the concert. I think it is necessary to understand his art and the turning points in his life and how they shaped his music before understanding the concert. So yes, what is Anouar Brahem’s story?
Brahem was born in Halfaouine in Tunisia in 1957 to a family of artists. He takes his strength after his father, who is a gravure artist and a music lover. Brahem enrols in Tunisia National Conservatoire at the age of 5 and his first teacher is the oud master Ali Sriti. Ali Sriti teaches Brahem the fine details of Arabic music almost every day for 4 years.
Teacher Ali Sriti and student Anouar Brahem performing together:
Brahem starts performing with local orchestras at the age of 15. He starts out with performing music for entertainment purposes. However, weddings were very important in those areas back in those days and there was a lot of respect shown to wedding musicians. Brahem starts transforming his music in the following years as he gets to know Mediterranean, Persian and Indian musics. Anouar Brahem, as we know him, starts to form after he learns about jazz. Brahem always says that he discovers the connection between different genres of music through jazz and that he takes great pleasure in this. He starts performing Arabic music with local Tunisian instruments after this, presenting them to his listeners during his concerts. He continues his journey with great motivation as his compositions receive acclaim.
Brahem takes his first production to a global level with the contribution of percussionist Lassaad Hosni and the Tunisian media. He goes to Paris in 1981 and introduces his music to different circles. This is a turning point in his life. He is no longer a local musician, but now has global recognition. He performs at important festivals with prominent musicians when he returns to Tunisia and this has shaped his music.
Another turning point in his life is when he meets Manfred Eicher after returning from his tour in USA and Canada in 1990. This brings him 7 albums and international fame.
It is hard to fit Brahem’s music into a single category. It is rather eclectic. His sound is nourished with many genres of World Music. I think his music is free. That is why whoever listens to it feels free and peaceful, and goes on his own journey through Anouar’s melodies. There is no designated path. Brahem wants to achieve different flavors in his albums through the use of different instruments. And his oud carries a sense of purity, depth, lyricism and melancholy instead of a firm African sound. Anouar Brahem’s oud is easily distinguishable through its sound and emotion.
Brahem takes his inspiration from “the tree which, while rising above the ground and taking up more space, continues to develop and dig its roots deeper into the ground”. African and Mediterranean foundations are manifested in jazz forms, creating this incredible music.
Anouar Brahem performed pieces from The Astounding Eyes of Rita, one of his most popular albums, during his concert at CRR that Friday evening. The collective music created by bass clarinet, oud, bass guitar, ‘darbuka’ and ‘bendir’ brought the East and the West closer with its traditional sound. He saluted us with a sound that is closer to his “Barzakh” and “Conte de l’Incroyable Amour” albums in this sense. Norma Winstone Trio’s Klaus Gesing (bass clarinet) and Nik Bärtsch’s Ronin’s Björn Meyer (bass guitar) are fundamentally interested in various musical sources in addition to jazz and their contribution to the sound and the emotions on the stage was indisputable. The melodies are enriched with Lebanese musician Khaled Yassine’s darbuka and bendir playing.
This concert was a journey among emotions for me. We internalized both Anouar’s pieces and the contribution of the various instruments. The bass created a rather dark and melancholic atmosphere through the use of the tapping technique, and was joined by the other instruments. Then the light of hope shined through the two pieces that followed. As the pieces went on, Anouar played his oud as he occasionally accompanied with his fragile and emotional vocals. The percussion joined in to the tapping of the bass as we watched their groovy dance on the stage, and suddenly we were overcome by an entirely different feeling through the dynamic clarinet solo. Percussion and melodies took us on a journey to India on occasion. We then found ourselves back in the streets of Tunisia, pursuing Rita’s astounding eyes as we experienced those somewhat dark and groovy lands.