Rhythms of resistance
Igor Levit's BBC Proms encore was a masterstroke. Not enough political edge to ruffle feathers. But just enough to raise the media profile of an otherwise lacklustre Proms season and spark the Guardian headline 'Proms get political as Ode to Joy features on first night'; all of which is guaranteed to set #bbcproms trending. Well-meaning he may be, but Igor Levit improvised his Ode to Joy protected by the safety-net of a recording contract with multi-national Sony Music, a management contract with multi-national IMG Artists and a career trajectory launched with the help of a New Generation Artists bursary from global media giant and Proms promoter the BBC.
Others also believe that music can make political statements, but they are doing it without the aid of corporate safety nets. Such as the young French-Syrian flautist Naïssam Jalal. Born to Syrian parents in Paris, she trained as a classical flautist. After completing her studies the teenage flautist embraced improvisation and toured Mali with a radical musical collective. When she was 19 Naïssam Jalal left France in search of her cultural and musical roots; her study of the ney (reed flute ) in Damascus, Syria was followed by time as a pupil of the Egyptian master violinist Abdo Dagher. In Cairo she started to explore the common ground between Western and Eastern music while working with Fathy Salama, the Arab World's only Grammy winner.
After returning to France in 2006 Naïssam Jalal worked extensively and toured with the Lebanese rapper Rayess Bek and Egyptian oud player Hazem Shaheen while developing her own unique jazz-influenced style. In 2009 her political awareness and Syrian roots resulted in the album To Resistance and for the last six years she has performed as the quintet Naïssam Jalal and Rhythms of Resistance accompanied by saxophone, cello, string bass and drums. As can be seen from the video below Naïssam Jalal believes in musical as well as political edge, and her style is thankfully far removed from the 'easy fusion' that is insidiously permeating World Music.
Naïssam Jalal has cut two albums with Rhythms of Resistance; her latest release Almat Wala Almazala (Death rather than humiliation) takes its title from the slogan for the 2011 Syrian protests against president Bashar al-Assad, and the album is dedicated to "the hundreds of thousands of men, women and children who have died under bullets or torture, and those who starved, besieged by the regime and facing the world's indifference". Sadly but predictably the corporate hegemony of the much-vaunted single European digital market means the albums have had to be issued on Naïssam Jalal's own record label, but they are fairly readily available.
Important music is growing in the killing fields far away from the comfort zone of the Albert Hall. Art music needs political edge, and it is good that both Igor Levit and Naïssam Jalal are providing that edge. But I just wish that a little more attention was focussed on the brave activist musicians who are not darlings of the twitterati and who do not benefit from the power of the corporate spin machine.
No review samples used. Any copyrighted material is included as "fair use" for critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Also on Facebook and Twitter.