When did you know for sure that you wanted to become a musician? How did this wonderful journey begin?
I started playing trumpet with my father, Nassim, at the age of 7. My father gave me a quartertone trumpet. He wanted me to learn classical music first, and wanted me to study in the same conservatory where he had studied with Maurice André. So my first steps in microtonal music, had to be a solo attempt by myself. Initially, I tried to copy my father but very soon I started to play differently. He used to play the trumpet quite loud, but my style was different. So I used to take the trumpet to my room and play very softly, trying to imitate Arabic scales the way my father played them, but also adding my own touch. It was a big challenge to make my father accept the fact that I played microtonal trumpet, and the fact that the way I played it would be very different from his own. It’s still a big deal for him.
You have released three extraordinary albums. What has been your story behind each one of them?
I composed my first album, “Diasporas” between 2003 and 2007 and it was the first time I explored my imagination with the opportunity to go in a studio and try things, and create some kind of new world for me to evolve. I worked on the second album “Diachronism” from 2005 until 2009. “Diachronism” was a big experiment for me. It’s actually a double album and I tried hundreds of things. I believe that the album that made me learn all about how studios work. I worked on the 3rd, “Diagnostic” from 2007 till 2010 and it was released in 2011. “Diagnostic” is the album where I wanted to include only those things that were the most important for me. Each track is dedicated to and inspired by somebody very close to me: my sisters, daughter, mother, father, etc. And of course, my hometown of Beirut. So there’s a short period (September & October 2007) where I was working on the 3 albums in the same time.
What are the elements that bind you with your music?
The way I compose music, is the way seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months and years go by. I simply and instinctively, bring together the most beautiful things I hear.
And I try to make them sound good. Sometimes the most beautiful things for me aren’t the same for other people. But since it’s my music, I choose what I think is beautiful. For example, I love Balkan trumpets, and I really love Brazilian batucadas, and when you put a Brazilian rhythm with trumpets playing an Arabic melody with a Balkan feeling, I think it sounds really good!
How influential has your family been for you as a musician?
From learning and playing with my father at an early age to dedicating the songs on my latest record to them, my family has had a great influence on my career.
You third album titled Diagnostic, is exquisite! What inspired you to create this album?
When I was working on this album, it occurred to me that it was the end of something. I had to finish some kind of therapy. I had many things I needed to get rid of – stress from my childhood, probably related to the war, but not just that. I had a very rigid childhood. No friends, no French speaking at home, difficulties at school. And, when I grew up, I understood that most of my problems came from the fact that I didn’t have the opportunity to express and develop my own personality. After some time, I started doing my therapy, interviewing people around me like my family, musician friends, asking them things about me, my childhood, the war, my father among other things. And the “Diagnosis” was really very bad! So I decided to express all these feelings through music to make it sound better. And my music was a huge therapy for me. This “Diagnostic” is definitely the reason why today, I feel balanced.
There are a few songs from the album that have been inspired by people close to you. Tell us a little about these songs and the people they have been inspired or written for.
‘Lily is 2′ is about my daughter Lily’s arrival and her growing up. I felt that life goes so fast. I honoured the vibrant mix of the Franco-Arab-Chilean heritage of my sister with “Maeva in the Wonderland,” and my mother’s healing kindness and fortitude with “Douce,” that features French-Malian MC Oxmo Puccino. The Balkan-inflected bluesy “Never Serious,” is a tune for my sister Layla. All the songs are dedicated to members of my family and my heritage.
The song ‘Beirut’, from your third album has a deep meaning behind it. Tell us about how this song came out to being as wonderful as it is? What made you write it?
I was born in Beirut. If I wanted my “Diagnostic” to be complete, and this research included the most important things in my life, I needed to add something about Beirut. Since each track of this album is inspired and dedicated to each person of my family, I needed to add Beirut which is also in my blood. So I asked my musicians to come to the studio. We played it once, and that was it.
Is there anything else you aspire to become apart from a musician?
Actually, I never considered playing the trumpet as the most important thing I’d do in my life. When I started working on my albums 10 years ago, it was mainly to compose music, hoping that some movie maker would listen and ask me for movie soundtrack. I used the trumpet because it’s the instrument I know the most. I did 20 years of classical music on a very high level, and it would be a big waste not to use this instrument that I know so well.
Do you think that you express yourself better through your music?
The track ‘Diagnostic’ is a great example of that. It’s a kind of synthesis of everything. I’m trying to make my trumpet sound like speaking, but speaking without words. It’s all the things I needed to say, that I couldn’t explain but that my music helped me to say. It’s more of a symbolic track than anything else.
What is your music inspired by? Are they things around you or is it all mentally present and guides you to creating your beautiful pieces?
I mostly prefer to use the beautiful things that are around me to inspire me. So beautiful places, beautiful people, beautiful instruments, different ideas. There is also one thing that I usually do when I compose and I still don’t get why, but I always compose while I’m walking – in big cities like Paris, Beirut, New York, or in my little tiny village, totally cut-off from the world in the Lebanese mountain. I see forms when I compose!
You’ve had the amazing opportunity to perform with many a notable musicians such as Sting! How was the experience like performing with these veterans?
Incredible. To share music is an amazing experience!
What has been the most significant and memorable moment of your life till now, since you started out as a musician?
I think the best souvenirs in my musical life are from the period when I was 8-9 till I was about 13-14 years old. I used to play in a duet with my father all over the world. He used to ask me to play with him. We did something like 300 concerts in 5 years, I think it was the best experience of my musical life.
How do you find Emaho magazine’s initiative to start a creative revolution?
I use the beautiful things around me as inspiration. Emaho’s initiative goes hand in hand with this idea. Sharing art and music is essential! We could never be exposed to so much creativity without outlets like this one.
Interviewed by: Surabhi Chowdhury
Pictures by: Denis Rouvre