Ibrahim Maalouf (“Beirut,” Kalthoum, Diasporas and more)

I consider my mother language, my musical mother language to be Arabic music. I was born into this culture. The music I know the most is Arabic music.”

Ibrahim Maalouf

Born in Beirut, Lebanon in 1980 trumpeter Ibrahim Maalouf grew up in the suburbs around Paris. Both of his parents are professional musicians: his mother is the pianist, Nadia Maalouf and his father, Nassim Maalouf is the noted trumpeter and inventor of the micro-tonal trumpet that allows musicians to play the sounds specific to Arabic music called the maqams.

Here's a video where Nassim Maalouf speaks about the instrument and another where Ibrahim Maalouf speaks about the micro-tonal trumpet and plays it with a small band. Both interviews are in French. 

“I was seven years old and I used to hear my father practising the trumpet and playing, he was playing in the living-room and my room was right on top of it, so I used to hear this very soft sound. One day I said I would like to play with you, probably to spend time with him. (...) The moments I loved was when we were playing concerts, playing baroque and Arabic music, this is how I started playing the trumpet.”

Interview with Swedish student media (2014) 

Kalthoum (Mister Ibe, 2015)

Kalthoum is a celebration of women who overturned the course of history, women whose artistic influence has had an impact reaching all the way down to our lives today. So I chose an emblematic figure, a genuine monument in the history of Arab people, and incidentally someone whose voice is the one I’ve listened to the most, ever since I was a child: Oum Kalthoum.

Pianist Frank Woeste and I took one of this Egyptian diva’s greatest songs, and we “translated” it into jazz that’s rather conventional, but hopefully it innovates in the way it mixes cultures: the song is “Alf Leila Wa Leila” (“The Thousand and One Nights”). The song was composed in 1969 by Baligh Hamidi, taking the form of a suite lasting around an hour (as often in those days), with a three-minute chorus and verses of between five and twenty-five minutes. A large part of the piece is reserved for improvisation, both in the original version and in this one, but this suite is above all a series of tableaux, and the way it’s set up was very exciting to re-transcribe.

We recorded and mixed it in New York with the same crew as for the album “Wind” in 2011, which was also a homage (to Miles Davis), so I naturally thought of “Kalthoum” as continuing that fine adventure on record, with Larry Grenadier (double bass), Clarence Penn (drums), Mark Turner (saxophone) and Frank Woeste on piano.

In the interview below for the Philharmonie de Paris Ibrahim Maalouf speaks about how Kalthoum's music united the various Arabic language communities (Muslim, Christian, Jewish and atheist); they all adored her work. He adds this work pays his respects to women in his family, and that he achieved this through the use of complex rhythms, piano and drums.    

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Maalouf is a major musical star in France and internationally. His website, for example, notes how he is the first jazz musician to have filled France’s largest concert stadium, Paris-Bercy. Mainstream pop/rock is central to his music; he says that Michael Jackson was of equal importance for his development as a child learning to play the trumpet as the Middle Eastern music he would listen to every night before going to sleep.

Some of the climactic rock elements in his work don’t appeal to me much, triggering (bad) memories of 70s arena-rock, Led Zeppelin and the like, but there is something profoundly affecting about much of his music. See his most famous piece ‘Beirut’- this is a particularly touching live recording - released on his 2011 album Diagnostic. The way the music falls and builds inspires optimism and hope, encouraging us to continue whatever we might face.

Much the same could be said for this piece "True Sorry" from his Illusions album released five years ago.

According to Wikipedia, at his concerts Maalouf plays music in a way that will inspire his audience to dance, but also includes meditative moments that he calls instances of "collective/ universal prayer."

Diasporas (Mister Ibe, 2007)

Maalouf's album Diasporas is a wonderful work the way it combines recordings of people speaking in public alongside the music. He started work on the album when he was quite young, aged 22 or 23 and was questioning a lot. "I was recording everything happening in my life," he says."I wanted answers, I was recording the album and working on it. I was listening to the album but felt that something was missing." What was missing were these random conversations with strangers. The track above, "Hashish" includes a recording of talk in a taxi, very deep in the background so that is almost impossible to hear. 

The 2015 Red & Black Light album included a cover of Beyonce's "Run The World (Girls)" with a political video accompanying it. The opening scene, dated 2027, includes a news announcement about how the curfew that affects foreigners is being undermined by groups of women who are encouraging French-born people to mix with those of immigrant origins. The walls of the meeting-place are plastered with posters from France's far-right party, the National Front, saying "France for the French" and "No to massive (unchecked) immigration."