Trio Joubran

Modern Palestinian Oud Music Goes Abroad

The oud trio only recently recorded its first album, and already the three Palestinians play their modern Arabic music at major jazz festivals worldwide. Max Annas has their story

The Trio Joubran (photo: Eye for Talent)
The idea for the trio came when Samir (center) heard the all-star guitar trio of Al Di Meola, Paco de Lucia and John McLaughlin combining jazz, rock, and Flamenco music

​​The Trio Joubran consists of three Palestinian brothers (32, 21 and 19 years old); and when one speaks to the oldest of them, the themes are quickly staked out: "No", says Samir Joubran, "I cannot recall ever having had an interview in which I spoke only about music without mentioning politics too."

Samir has already been performing internationally for several years. He recruited his brother Wissam in 2002, and the "youngster", Adnan, joined them two years later. As Trio Joubran, they are now becoming increasingly popular worldwide, garnering applause at major jazz festivals without alienating fans of Arabic music.

Politics and art

"I'm used to talking about politics", says Samir Joubran. "For us, the news is our daily bread. I wish this would change, but politics is something even my little daughter talks about. It will stay that way for as long as we are living under the occupation."

There are probably few places on earth where even music that's almost entirely instrumental can so quickly and almost automatically become a political issue. In Europe at least, though, the Trio's brilliant concerts are cool and undemonstrative, yet intensively communicative – and entirely free of politics.

A band with three bandleaders

The Trio Joubran (photo: Eye for Talent)
The irony is that the three brothers, being born in Nazareth, travel on Israeli passports, and so, except for Egypt and Jordan, they cannot travel to Arab countries

​​The set-up alone is spectacular in itself. The Lebanese oud player, Rabih Abou-Khalil, likes to compare his instrument to the piano, the "boss" instrument in European classical music. If the oud, a five-stringed Arab lute, is indeed a bandleader's instrument, then the Trio Joubran is a band with three leaders – and all three of them are sons of the most famous oudmaker in Palestine.

"For an Arab audience", says Samir, "what we're doing is something absolute out of the ordinary. For us, it's a big challenge – but each of us has his own personality, and there are enough beautiful sounds to be drawn from these five strings."

The Joubrans are not restricted to standard, song-length compositions. They're prepared to let a track reach almost epic length, as in the case of "Safar", a piece on the "Randana" CD that's almost 18 minutes long. It was the first work created by the three brothers together, and it appears on their own label (also called "Randana").

Musical dialogue on the oud

"Safar" is a showcase for the brothers' wonderful talent, with written material flowing seamlessly into improvised passages. Each of the three brothers has a tangible respect for the others' musicianship and a wonderful sensitivity towards the sounds they are producing. Occasionally, the music is punctuated by pauses, while each of the brothers simply waits – a rarity in the professional music business, where silence is rarely golden.

Samit Joubran explains how the band works: "Seventy percent of the music is not written down", he says. "I want to improvise. The reason for this is that each of us is a strong personality, and in the course of improvisation, there is a great deal of dialogue between us. Our instrument is ideal for this, because the oud is the mother of the guitar."

The love of the people of Ramallah

That the Trio can make other kinds of music is amply demonstrated by the track that follows "Safak" and concludes the CD: "Ahwak" is a song from the 50s, written by Mohamed Abdel Wahab and originally sung by Abdel Halim Hafez.

These were two of the greatest Egyptian musicians of the 20th century. "I love this song", says Samir. "It used to be very well known, but it's been somewhat neglected recently. 'Ahwak' means 'I love you'; and by performing it, I want to show that the people of Ramallah still have love in them."

"Ahwak" forms a definite counterpoint to the rest of the CD. Recorded in Ramallah, it quickly becomes a kind of dance number, with Samir himself doing the singing.

This year, the Trio has performed only once in Palestine itself. Samir: "That gives me energy for a whole year. We're thinking about touring all of Palestine, not just Ramallah. Hebron, Bethlehem, Nazareth, Jerusalem – everywhere. The people there deserve to be able to hear our music. And one thing is clear: in Palestine, I don't talk about politics, but only about love."

Max Annas

© 2005

Translation from German: Patrick Lanagan

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Trio Joubran at 'Eye for Talent'

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