Fusion Musician and Sufi Master

الثلاثاء 17 تموز 2007

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Written by Ramsey Tesdell

A lover of Um Kalthoum and hailing from a family with a long lineage of Sufi masters, Ruba Saqr is continuing the family tradition of using music to connect with the Divine, but also using her musical talents in Music Matbakh to introduce the world to the long tradition of Arabic music.

“Any civilization that leaves a mark on history is rich in its arts and music. Music is not just an entertainment tool; it is a voice that speaks for all of us,” said Saqr.

Saqr grew up in Amman but spent significant time in Syria where her mother’s family is originally from. Starting to perform music at the ripe age of 17, she studied English Literature at the University of Jordan. One of her first public performances was in 1994 and 1995 at the 1st and 2nd Solo Music and Performance Festival in Jordan.

Her mother introduced her to many different musical traditions growing up. Her family listened to French, classical and of course Arabic music. Her music today, however is influenced by a plethora of different genres and musicians.

“I’m also fond of rock icons (slow, hard and heavy metal) and bands that have been part of my growing up years, such as White Snake, Led Zeplen, Metallica and Pearl Jam. I love Bono’s voice, I can’t help it; there’s something about it that just makes me melt!”

Music is more than just a profession, however. For Saqr, music and spirituality go hand in hand.ruba2

“My grandmother, who passed away last year, taught me so many things; one of the things she taught me was the value of music as a channel to connect with the Divine,” Saqr told 7iber.com.

“I have been inspired by the mantra-recitation sittings my Teta (Grandmother), mom, uncles, aunts and relatives used to hold for hours repeating God’s names and various Sufi Anasheed (ditties),” she said.

Saqr’s musical career took off when she learned and successfully applied for Music Matbakh. Music Matbakh is a project created by The British Council. The Council, through its branch offices in the Mashreq and Maghreb parts of the Arab World as well as in the UK approached musicians to apply to join other artists from the region for a tour of England and the Arab World.

“What I really love about Music Matbakh is the openness and the learning experience a musician can get from mingling with some of the Arab World’s top musicians,” said Saqr.

“Working intensively with 15 musicians was a rich experience. Fusing tunes that marry elements from many genres – rock, jazz, oriental jazz, rap, electronica and folk – is a challenging endeavor. The fact that we made it and received attention by the media in the UK testifies to the cultural weight the Music Matbakh succeeded.

For an artist who is planning to release her first album later this year, she has written and performed extensively. Most of her songs come from personal experiences and express the impact of her life and reflections of Saqr’s spirituality.

Saqr declares her music a “fusion” of many different types, and doesn’t enjoy labels so much. She says she plays a style that she likes to call “Alternative Arabic.” Saqr writes all her own songs, except one, which is a poem written by her mother Zuliekha Abu Risha.

When asked if she preferred performing in Arabic or English she said her mother tongue feels more natural.

“In the early days, I was part of rock and oriental rock bands and the songs I used to write were in English, but I always felt as if I was pretending to be someone else. I found out that I needed to express who I am using the true language that spoke for who I am,” she said.

More and more local musicians are popping up in Jordan and creating a scene in cafes and local theaters. Saqr argues that music is important to a civilization and the citizens in the area. It can add to the economy and add to the culture.

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Saqr had this to say about local musicians: “Think about it, how many musical pieces were part of your adolescent years and have helped shape or change your perceptions about the world? That’s why supporting Jordanian and Arab musicians is important through proper production programs and well-thought-of funding programs (i.e. ones that that don’t suck the life out of musicians for marketing purposes by short-sighted big corporations who only care about the appearance of their logos on CDs and in concerts, while lacking a long-term strategy to empower artists in a bid to empower the musical scene). Most importantly, alternative and underground musicians need outlets to perform at, studios with good technicians (which we drastically lack in Jordan), producers with vision, managers with delicate understanding of the nature of their music, and most importantly sponsors who don’t trespass on the integrity of the musicians’ work.”

Contact Ruba Saqr via email or on her website.

Enjoy these two clips.

Music Matbakh will be touring the Middle East this summer. The dates include one in Amman on July 22:
– Amman on July 22, Al Hussein Cultural Center at Ras El Ain
– Damascus, Syria on July 24, Kasr Al Azm (Al Azm Palace in the old part of Damascus)
– Lebanon is canceled because of political turbulence
– Alexandria, Egypt, S.O.S Festival, and in Cairo between August 10 and 13
– Tunis, Tunisia, August 14-17