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Jazz in the Arab World: Early Attempts and New Fusions

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Wednesday 12 July 201702:17 pm
During the cold war between the United States and the Soviet Union, Jazz music was a strong card for the Americans with which they influenced and inspired the world. What was once the black man’s song of sorrow and struggle became a world-renowned genre. In fact, the social and political developments experienced in Jazz music have turned it into a “high art” in which only the most-skilled and best-trained musicians can thrive. [caption id="attachment_70459" align="aligncenter" width="400"]Louis Armstrong in Beirut Louis Armstrong in Beirut[/caption] In the Arab world, Jazz continues to inspire generations of musicians across genres. However, the influence might be two-sided when we look at a subgenre such as “oriental jazz.” Modernist jazz musicians and scholars took interest in Arabic music, among other world music, to bring a new soul into their work. Perhaps Lloyd Miller’s A Lifetime in Oriental Jazz, reproduced in 2002, would be a noteworthy example here. [caption id="attachment_70460" align="aligncenter" width="700"]Les Petit Chatsفرقة-Les-Petit-Chats5 Les Petit Chats[/caption] [h1]Cairo’s elitist bands[/h1] Jazz experiments in Arabic music are not a new trend; there was the godfather of “oriental jazz” Yehya Khalil who founded the Cairo Jazz Quartet- the first jazz band in Egyptian history, when he was only 14 years old. Following the band’s great success, Yehya travelled to the United States to pursue his studies in music, prospering under the tutelage of prominent figures in the jazz world, and later, playing in more than twenty countries. During that period too, the pianist Fathi Salama founded the Egyptian Ensemble Sharqiyat that plays jazz with a Middle Eastern flavour. His music is characterised by its combination of folklore and jazz, and one of his most famous albums "Camel Dance" was listed among "Top World" albums in the genre. Another band that gained fame in the Egyptian jazz scene is Eftekasat, which brings a fusion of jazz, folklore, and Sufi music. The poet Khalil Ezz El-Din says that after the 1973 war in Egypt, specifically from 1974 until the mid-1980s, Egyptian independent bands had an experience parallel to that of American jazz, most notably Les Petits Chats, the band in which Omar Khairat played the drums, and Ezzat Abu Auf on the keyboard. The band's music remains one of the most important jazz experiences in the Arab world. Les Petits Chats didn't achieve great success in Egypt at the time, due to the prevalent consumerist tastes, and was therefore limited to the elitist circles of Cairo. At that time, the popular singer Ahmed Adaweyah had set a tone for the market with his sha'abi songs, which were loved among all classes of society.

[h2]Another Return[/h2] Ezz El-Din adds that, it was Tamer Karawan who revived the jazz experience again in the early 2000’s, when composing scores such as "el hayat law le'ba" (If life were a game), in which Sheikh Zain Mahmoud is the vocalist, for the 2008 film "Geneneit el asmak" (The Aquarium). Besides Karawan's contributions, Ezz el-Din believes that jazz has played a very small role in Egyptian films; briefly used in films like "Leh Khaletny Ahebak" produced in 2000. Last but not least, Egyptian singer Mohammad Adaweyah released two albums "Men Kelmetein" and "El Tayeb Ahsan", which El-Din believes are influenced by jazz.

[h2]Jazz Fusions[/h2]

Perhaps the most important jazz experiment in the Arab world was that of Ziad Rahbani, who collaborated with various Lebanese singers including Salma Mousfi, Rasha Rizk, and Joseph Sakr, releasing more than one album. His music had broadened the Arab jazz experience, with works such as "Besaraha" (Frankly), "El Ra'y el 'Am" (Public Opinion) and "Dawerha Dor."

In the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, and following the Lebanese war, oriental jazz was one of the most popular types of music in Lebanese society. Jazz had many fans in Lebanon, which helped the genre gain a presence. Another Lebanese jazz composer is the saxophone player Toufic Farroukh, who is known for mixing Arabic music with jazz motifs. In Syria, Lina Chamamyan is a leading jazz singer with three albums: Hal Asmar Ellon, Shamat, and Ghazal El-Banat. In Sudan, Amira Kheir, who is also known as "the Diva of Sudanese Desert", introduced a distinctive style of Sudanese jazz music, of melancholy and melodrama, inspired by the desert and Sufi music. Finally, in Morocco, Malika Zarra was able to achieve great success by integrating Gnawa and African music with jazz.

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