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101, September 2006 Latest update 9 2014f August 2014, at 4.39 am
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Le Trio Jubran – Jerusalem Festival 2005, Photo by Ra’ouf Haj Yahya
The Joubran Trio with Anne Gwynne

Joubran of Nazareth: A Musical Miracle
by Anne Gwynne

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” (Dickens)

At this worst of times, when Gaza and Lebanon are being obliterated, music might seem to be merely a luxury from better times. Yet the power of music both to transcend the horrors of death and destruction and to deliver a profound message of identity and cultural resistance is movingly demonstrated by the Trio Joubran. Earlier this  summer, my small country of Wales was honoured to host their first British concert tour in which they treated us to six superb recitals played as part of the UK’s Festival of Muslim Cultures 2006. The enthusiastic, appreciative and supportive audiences from all over Wales filled every seat.

There is a strong affinity and immediate rapport between the Palestinian and Welsh peoples whether we meet in Falasteen or in Wales. My mountainous and beautiful country, with its 3.5 million inhabitants, is still hoping for independence after hundreds of years of English domination, with its sustained attempts at cultural, lingual and historical obliteration, as well as the killing and deportation of thousands in the past. Palestinians are the descendants of the ancient people of the land of Kanaan and we are the descendants of the original inhabitants of Britain. Both Palestine and Wales are nations of poets and musicians speaking ancient languages, each with a body of law and of literature which pre-date the English language by centuries, and we both place a high value on education and the family.

The three amazing Joubran brothers - Samir, 32, Wissam, 22, and Adnan, 20 - are, in the words of Samir, ‘natives of the city of Al-Nasra [Nazareth] in Al-Jaleel, northern Palestine.’ They are masters of the oud, and their ensemble represents the first time anywhere in the world that three ouds have played together on stage. An Arabic instrument of great antiquity and even greater difficulty, it is the ancestor of the European lute and dates back at least 4,500 years.

The brothers come from a strong musical family: their mother is a singer, their father a third-generation oud-maker, a tradition outstandingly continued by Wissam, who, two years ago, graduated from the Antonio Stradivari Academy in Cremona, Italy as the most outstanding student of his year, completing the six-year course in only four! Wissam is the first Palestinian and the first Arab student ever to enter the Academy. 

Samir studied first at the Nazareth Music Institute and graduated from the Mohammed Abdel Wahab Music School in Cairo. He is already an oud virtuoso, and made his first CD, Taqassim, in 1996. Seven years later, he formed a duo with Wissam which resulted in the fine album, Tamaas (Daqui/Harmonia Mundi 2003), and in April last year they were joined by Adnan who is considered to be a prodigy by his brothers. Together they have recorded their debut album, Randana (Fairplay/Harmonia Mundi 2005) that features the music played in this Welsh tour. 

The Performance
Their performances, which Samir dedicated to their family back in Palestine, opened with a characteristic Joubran improvisation: peaceful and contemplative, drawing the audience into their extraordinary musical exchange. From the first notes, it was evident that we were in the presence of very special musicians. What strikes the listener is not only a masterly command of the traditional Arabic maqaam and an exceptional ability in improvisation, but also the nature of their musical interaction: intuitive, empathetic and always mutually responsive. At times, their playing is powerful and almost orchestral in effect; at other times intimate and delicate. Theirs is music that is in turn passionate and sorrowful, imbued with the poignancy of the Palestinian struggle for justice, but most of all, it is full of love. The emotional weight they lend to each phrase extends, remarkably, to the silences, creating music of great meaning, energy and drive that comes from deep inside the soul. 

One of many delightful moments came when Samir invited his audience to join him in the refrain of Ahwak, a famous love song by Mohammed Abdel Wahab, which they did in the musical way that Welsh audiences do! ‘Now you can’t say you haven’t sung an Arabic song!’ he quipped.

In Shaghaf (passion), their skill and inspiration in weaving the three ouds together was simply stunning as they brought out, in their improvisations, the many shades of passion - playful, intense, joyful, and intimate - in playing of staggering virtuosity.

Safaar (travel), the final piece, Samir explained, was an extended improvisation exploring the musical traditions of ‘two beautiful cultures,’ the Arabic and the Andalusian. Beginning with a melancholic melody that unfolded over a three-note ostinato and drone, the trio led us on an enthralling musical journey. Here, Samir’s evocative description of the oud as a ‘sensitive, pregnant guitar’ really resonated as the trio drew the flamboyance of flamenco guitar from its delicate forebears. 

Spellbound audiences gave the brothers standing ovations, insisting on an encore. To our delight, this began with one of the most difficult playing styles - the Turkish longa, which demands consummate technique, dexterity and concentration, especially when two play on a single instrument! With Samir leaning over Wissam’s oud, the two brothers gave a breathtaking display of cooperation - Samir fingering and Wissam plucking at lightning speed! Then, in some of the most magical moments of the evening, the trio rescored the Adagio of Joaquin Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez to enthralling effect. Samir, truly a musical giant, imbued the haunting melody with a melancholy passion brilliantly captured by Wissam and Adnan as the theme passed from one to the other in a seamless improvisation that revealed the music’s inspiration in Al-Andalus.

Cultural Resistance
As they played in the ancient Arab tradition, the words of Professor Edward Said came vividly to me: culture is a form of resistance, ‘a way of fighting against extinction and obliteration... culture is a form of memory against effacement.’ For, even though Le Trio Joubran are fine musicians in their own right, they are, as Samir eloquently explained, also inevitably something else: resistance fighters in the struggle for a free Palestine. And their weapon? The oud, all three exquisitely crafted by the delicate hands of Wissam. Their music and their instruments, redolent with history, represent the Palestinian people: generous, beautiful, and honest, interacting intricately and intimately in a many-layered filigree without competition or aggression.

‘I wish we could be normal musicians,’ Samir told us, ‘but we cannot be until we have our country back. We have a land and we deserve to be living free and not under occupation …Until we have our country - Palestine - back, we cannot just play the music.’ It is not surprising, then, that Samir works with other artists whose work is imbued with the spirit of Palestinian cultural resistance, notably poet Mahmoud Darwish and film director Rashid Mashharawi.

For the Joubran brothers to give such stunning performances under the burden of the knowledge they carry is truly remarkable, especially at this time when the people of Gaza have been suffering the brutal onslaught of Israel’s terror, grotesquely dubbed ‘operation summer rain.’ ‘It is very difficult for us to play,’ Samir admitted, ‘because, even as we play here, our people are being killed, our people are dying,’ (Between 26 June and 26 August 2006, over 1000 have been killed and injured in Gaza, many of them children, and at least twelve families have been wholly or partly wiped out.) ‘I would like to keep politics out of our music, but how can I when I go back to the hotel and see the news on television?’ 

The Joubran brothers’ unforgettable programme of lyricism and loss, triumph and tragedy, love and suffering, endurance and pain, embodied the spirit of Palestine, and was warmly applauded everywhere.

Anne Gwynne, a.gwynne@yahoo.co.uk, is an elected member of the International Federation of Journalists and the National Union of Journalists (UK).
More of Anne’s photographs of the trio's tour can be found at: http://pg.photos.yahoo.com/ph/joubrantrio.inwales/my_photos

Find out more about the Trio on
www.eyefortalent.com, and there is also a video presentation at www.suds-arles.com/fr/soirees/joubran.htm.


Find out more about the Trio on
www.eyefortalent.com, and there is also a video presentation at www.suds-arles.com/fr/soirees/joubran.htm.
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