Music Between Cultures

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    The Lebanese Musician Rabih Abou-Khalil
    ‘There Are Always Doors Between Cultures’

    Rabih Abou-Khalil’s music contains a whole spectrum of acoustic colour and music worlds. As a soloist on the oud, as well as in his role as a composer, he has succeeded in creating a music all his own.

    Rabih Abou-Khalil’s music contains a whole spectrum of acoustic colour and music worlds. As a soloist on the oud, the Arab lute with the angled neck, as well as in his role as a composer, he has succeeded in creating a music all his own.

    He became increasingly fascinated by American jazz, but never lost sight of his Arabic musical heritage. Engaging simultaneously with these different musical worlds has proved an enduring stimulus for his musical work. It was and remains for him a source of inspiration and has opened up new possibilities for him in the realm of composition.

    Rabih Abou-Khalil was born in Beirut in 1957 and grew up there in the politically unstable but nonetheless culturally exciting climate of the 1960s and ’70s. It was here, as a young man, that he learned to play the oud.

    In 1978 the civil war drove him abroad, to Europe. He had already learned German as a foreign language at school in Beirut, and he decided to settle in Munich, because a schoolfriend of his was already living there. In Munich he began to study European classical music. Alongside the guitar, his primary instrument was the flute.

    In the course of his studies he did extensive research into European classical and contemporary music theory. His studies in Munich under Professor Walther Theurer represented an important challenge for him, as he himself has said: ‘Considerably more perfection is demanded of one. It really was a very difficult course of study. Today, of course, I’m very glad of it, or rather shortly afterwards I was glad of it.’

    After graduating, Rabih Abou-Khalil played in an ensemble for a time as a flautist; but he still harboured the desire to play his Arab lute again. However, in the late 1970s this still sounded too foreign to European ears, and the term ‘world music’ was still not widely used. On his first album, therefore, he still plays the flute.

    In 1987 he brought out his third album, Between Dusk and Dawn - his first major success, as was also evinced by the number of records sold. At that time he was still distributing his records from home; he himself would put them in their covers and take them by train to record shops, where he would sell them individually.

    When the record companies noticed that Between Dusk and Dawn was turning into a best seller, they offered him a contract. Suddenly, at the start of the 1990s, he received a call from Matthias Winckelmann, a producer with the jazz label Enja, who put him under contract. He has remained loyal to Enja to this day. With his new, original sound world, Rabih Abou-Khalil has made a name for himself over the years on the international jazz market.

    His music is a mixture of traditional Arabic music, classical European music and jazz, setting new benchmarks in contemporary improvised music. His musical diversity clearly opened the doors of concert halls for him all over the world.

    The music he and his ensembles play is no longer only popular with a small group of jazz enthusiasts, as more than half a million CDs sold and concerts throughout the world go to show. In the year 1999 alone he received a total of five jazz awards from the Deutsche Phono-Akademie, and in 2002 he was awarded the Deutsche Schallplattenkritik’s honorary certificate.

    He seems to have had quite a knack when choosing his collaborators. He has played with, among others, the classical ensembles the Kronos Quartet and the Balanescu Quartet, as well as jazz greats such as saxophonist Charlie Mariano, trumpeter Kenny Wheeler, and the world musician Glen Velez.

    On his recordings, Oriental instruments such as the oud lute and the riq frame drum mingle effortlessly with the familiar palette of typical European instruments such as the cello, violin, saxophone and tuba. Different styles coexist in his music and are accorded equal weight. Abou-Khalil succeeds in creating a musical fusion of progressive, Euro-American influenced rhythms and instrumental work with an Oriental feel.
    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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