Music Between Cultures

    Marwan Abado
    ‘For Me, Exile Is a Place of Encounter and Development’

    Marwan Abado, born in Beirut in 1967, founded the band Abado & Co. The ensemble mixes elements of Oriental and Western music; strange and distinctive sounds form the basis for a type of music that is new and original.

    ‘It is the responsibility of art to slow the pace of life,’ says Marwan Abado. Born in Beirut in 1967, a Palestinian refugee, he started to become interested in music while he was still living there. He took music lessons, which brought him into contact with new musical forms, with theatre and sprechgesang. He saved up to buy himself his first Arab lute, an oud, and in 1983 joined a group with which he then played for the next two years. He was unable to stay in Beirut: the civil war was raging in Lebanon, and for Palestinians in particular the situation was becoming ever more dangerous. In 1985 Abado decided to go to Europe, ending up in Vienna, where he immediately felt at home. There he encountered a multicultural atmosphere that was to have a decisive influence on his music in later years.

    When Abado arrived in Vienna he couldn’t speak a word of German; but he had many plans. When he discovered that classical music especially played a very important part in the life of the city, he decided to study music there. He still didn’t have any clear ideas as to how a course of study would fit in with his professional plans, but he enrolled at the conservatorium. He wanted to study the oud, but this was not possible in Vienna at the time, so he registered to study guitar.

    ‘Here I was very fortunate in that I met the Iraqi master of the oud, Asim Al-Chalabi. He was an important teacher for me. I learned a great deal from him, both technically and in terms of the Iraqi style and mindset when playing the oud.’

    Not long after his arrival he founded his band, Abado & Co. The ensemble mixes elements of Oriental and Western music; strange and distinctive sounds form the basis for a type of music that is new and original. For him, Vienna was the ‘gateway to the world’, the ideal place for him to develop musically. On his first album, Kreise [Circles], it is clear that he has drawn inspiration from Western music. Kreise is mostly instrumental music for oud, double bass, soprano saxophone and percussion.

    Alongside such instrumental albums, Marwan Abado is constantly returning to his great love: poetry. For example, his new programme, Kabila, focuses on texts by modern Arabic authors as well as on poems of his own.

    In addition to his musical collaboration with the ensemble, Abado continues to pursue solo projects. On the solo CD Sohn des Südens [Son of the South] he recorded his own songs that he had composed over many years, and which he didn’t want to present in a large formation.

    Marwan Abado is continually crossing the borders between cultures. In the spirit of improvisation he creates with his group a rhythm-dominated music over a background of traditional Arabic melodies.

    ‘My music is a part of my life. It springs from a particular source, a particular biography, and it also springs from my life in the most beautiful of exiles, in Vienna. For me, exile is a place of encounter and development. These encounters are also a part of these compositions.’

    Jazz also became an important influence on his music. Improvisation is the magic word that the two genres, jazz and Oriental music, have in common; in Oriental music, too, wealth of improvisation is regarded as a typical characteristic. In this age of ‘world music’, different musical styles are often mixed together, creating a vivid musical mulch. Abado counters this trend with a music in which the individual sound worlds can still be heard and differentiated.

    Marwan Abado has been awarded the National Order of Merit for Intercultural Dialogue by the Austrian Federal Ministry of Education, Arts and Culture for his intercultural work.
    Suleman Taufiq
    is originally from Syria, and has lived in Germany since the late 1960s. He is a freelance writer and regularly presents radio programmes on Oriental music for German listeners on Westdeutscher Rundfunk.

    Translated by Charlotte Collins
    Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Fikrun wa Fann
    November 2011

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