Khaled Aljaramani

Somewhere between two worlds – between dream and reality, the earth and the sky, the absolute and the relative, and between life and death – there are feelings and emotions that are called halât ar-rûh (spiritual states) in colloquial Syrian. This recording was inspired by this emotional sphere. When Khaled Aljaramani recorded Athar (‘Traces’) he reflected: ‘How can mere wood and strings produce the beauty of the ûd’s plaintive melodies, whispers, and murmurs?’


1Dhilâl/Shadows – 6’54
2Luqya/Trouvaille/Findings – 8’25
3 Farah/Joie/Joy – 4’56
4 Samâî Bayât/Improvisation in the Samâꜥî Bayât Mode – 6’44
5 Athar/Impression – 5’40
6 Nawâ/Estrangement – 5’57
7 Taqâsîm Rast/Improvisation in the Rast Mode – 6’49
8 Khayl wa khayâl/Horse and Dream – 8’18

Interpreters and instruments

Khaled Aljaramani (oud)


Somewhere between two worlds – between dream and reality, the earth and the sky, the absolute and the relative, and between life and death – there are feelings and emotions that are called halât ar-rûh (spiritual states) in colloquial Syrian. This recording was inspired by this emotional sphere. When Khaled Aljaramani recorded Athar (‘Traces’) he reflected: ‘How can mere wood and strings produce the beauty of the ûd’s plaintive melodies, whispers, and murmurs?’

Portrait by Frédéric Deval

The idea of national music is dead; it died at different times, depending on the culture, though it is difficult to specify exactly when. The demise of national music in Europe could be traced to post 1945. What, for instance, does the concept of French, German, or Spanish music signify in the second half of the twentieth century?

In the Arab world, where nationalism served as a means of combatting Western colonialism, the death of musical nationalism occurred later – a process that began in the 1980s and is still underway.

Since the end of the 1990s, globalization has accelerated this process, irrespective of geoculture, by disassociating aesthetics from territory. Artists’ and people’s creative ‘territory’ is no longer linked to a particular country. The equation‘1 nation =1 territory =1 culture =1 imagination’ no longer applies.

In the case of Syria, there has been a mosaic of religions and cultures in the country since the end of the Ottoman Empire. The country’s multicultural character made it particularly receptive to musical developments. Musicians are especially sensitive to the underlying forces that shape the society in which they create their music. Turmoil has gripped Syria for over two years, but the country’s most sensitive artists, who are as vibrant and responsive as a percussion skin, embraced change well before the crisis began.

Over the last ten years, Khaled Aljaramani has developed a musical approach that has increasingly moved away from the norms of ‘Arab music’ and ‘Syrian music’. His collaboration with Serge Teyssot-Gay since 2003 – 2004 has led him to create a common language using the ûd and the electric guitar, which culminated in the masterpiece Interzone (2006). The ‘Maqams et Création’ conference at the Fondation Royaumont in 2005 provided him with the confirmation that the maqâm structures – melodic modes that are considered to be the quintessence of Arab musical identity and its history – can be used to create a common language for contemporary musicians in an area that stretches from the Pamirs to Andalusia.

The Arab Spring is overthrowing authoritarian regimes, but artists embraced change long before these revolutions. At the end of the 1980s, Anouar Brahem began breaking away from traditional Tunisian music to explore other genres; and, for more than a decade,Zad Moultaka has been developing a highly personal form of expression driven by a fruitful tension between his memories of Lebanon and contemporary music. Khaled Aljaramani has also had the courage to break away from tradition and explore personal forms of expression. His work is not governed by any political power or set of aesthetics.

Athar (‘Traces’) further illustrates his independence as an artist. The meditative pieces for solo ûd, in which a highly expressive humming sound rises to the surface, explore the maqâmât ‘modalities’ with great liberty; they are dreamy, interrogative, and the music hangs in suspense. There are hints of ‘non-tempered’ Bach in the suite’s last piece, Khayl wa Khayâl, which gives the listener food for thought.

Frédéric Deval is responsible for the transcultural music programme at the Fondation Royaumont in France.

© Waël Khalifa

Interview with Imane Ourabi

Why did you choose to play the ûd?
I didn’t choose to play the ûd – it chose me! I grew up in a family where the ûd was almost part of the family. I became familiar with the instrument in early childhood.

You compose for the ûd with great liberty. Who inspires your work?
I’m an author, composer, and interpreter. I’m primarily an interpreter, but I don’t just transmit a musical heritage. I use the ûd to create music and innovate. I don’t think I’ve been influenced by anyone in particular. I belong to a long line of composers for the ûd, such as Jamil and Mounir Bashir, Anouar Brahem, and many others, who have each left their mark on my musical approach.

Do you think it’s possible to write new and contemporary compositions for the ûd, which deviate from the use of taqsîms and improvisations?
Yes, of course, the ûd is a living instrument. It is a contemporary instrument that is rooted in tradition, so the improvisations are contemporary or traditional. Let me explain: in traditional oriental music, the taqsîms and improvisations were in some ways composed phrases that were repeated to introduce the vocal performances – nothing more, nothing less. But in contemporary music, the improvisations are very similar to a carefully designed and finely worked composition.

My personal project consists of composing musical pieces for the ûd and adding something new, without abandoning the traditional levels of expression, sonority, and the playing techniques. I’m inspired by the rules of composition and improvisation, such as the samâ’î and the taqsîm, and I add contemporary elements to the traditional musical matrices that take the ûd into new musical spheres.

Pioneers like Jamil and Mounir Bashir, Salman Shukur, and many others, have turned the ûd into a major musical instrument. In what way have contemporary players innovated ûd playing?
Mounir Bashir’s playing has added some of the most innovative developments to the ûd. In addition to the usual tarab, he has given the improvisation and oriental modes of composition a deep spiritual dimension. Mounir Bashir and his ûd have contributed to the development of dialogue between the musician, his instrument, and the listener. There’s a continuous quest for innovation, so there are now compositions for every style of music in the world, from jazz to classical music.

Do you think that contemporary Arab composers are motivated or influenced by what the public wants?
I do whatever I can to preserve the rules of Arab music. And where are we now in that regard? As for public taste… that’s an eternal question. There have always been musicians who want to be popular with as many people as possible and others who prioritize artistic excellence. The problem isn’t that there are two different approaches – what’s important is the aim behind the music.

What are the principles that an ûd soloist should stick to?
Sincerity and harmony between oneself and the world protect the musician from any form of regression that leads to the deformation of the true nature of artistic integrity. A genuine artist must stick to his principles.

What do you think about commercial music?
This kind of music is very negative as it lacks taste and lessens artistic sensitivity.

Can one pursue artistic projects and teach at the same time?
It’s entirely feasible. Teaching can truly broaden a musician’s outlook. It can be a very satisfying experience for the teacher and lead to rewarding discoveries for both master and pupil.

Do you think your celebrity has led you to lose touch with broader musical audiences? Have you deliberately targeted a narrow audience that only appreciates artistic excellence?
Not at all! Elite audiences have always appreciated artistic integrity.

These days, many musicians like to impress audiences with their virtuosity, but few of them manage to combine traditional music with creativity. What is your approach?
I’m not interested in impressing people with technical virtuosity – technique is secondary to the music itself. When you’ve mastered the technique the rest comes naturally…

When Beethoven presented his Third Symphony (or Eroica) two hundred years ago it was described as ‘noise’ and considered ‘provocative’ by conventional critics. Yet, today the piece is greatly admired. How can artistic creativity be reconciled with the desire to discover new works?
New artistic creations need not be ‘different’ – they can even be acclaimed by the public. There will always be an avant-garde audience – no matter how small – for avant-garde artists. Time is always the best judge of art, because many works have been discovered after their authors’ deaths. There will always be those who are capable of recognising the quality of contemporary artistic works.

It’s important to experiment in order to acquire greater knowledge. Do you think that your vocal performances have played an important role?
The links between the ûd and song are very ancient. Even though I don’t see myself as a true singer, certain sung phrases occur to me after thoughts or memories. I can’t help but give free rein to these vocal performances as they complement the ‘images’ – not images as such – but the singing helps to make the ‘images’ clearer.

Do you think that art helps us to understand the world? Does it make it a finer place? Is it an essential part of life?
Art emanates from an eternal and creative soul – a soul that also enables the artist to be receptive. It is a bridge between the relative and the absolute, between reality and dreams. Art may not be capable of changing reality, but it does help us to understand and transcend it.

Tarab can be a sensual or spiritual pleasure. Do you think music should be included in the humanities? Should it be considered an intellectual pleasure like painting, the cinema, philosophy, and literature?
The spiritual or emotional side is probably stronger in oriental music, as attested by the unique notion of tarab, which is a sort of musical ecstasy. But, like all music, the author can choose to take it in any direction. Various musicians, including myself, adopt this approach. But it’s important to do it without neglecting the spiritual content of oriental music, as it would lose all its meaning. Musical development results from the creative work of musicians and fundamental musical principles.

Many contemporary musicians play with their alter egos. Italian saxophonists often play with Senegalese guitarists. Could these experiments develop into new musical forms?
This musical interchange can produce artistic results – some of them are good, some not so good, and some are even poor, but the best stuff will always stand the test of time.

You’ve played with the French electric guitar player Serge Teyssot-Gay, the clarinettist Raphaël Vuillard, and the Syrian composer Abed Azrié, who lives in Paris and sings in Arabic. Have these experiences been enriching, and have they inspired you to work with other musicians? What effect have they had on your career?
Each of these experiences has been enriching in different ways, especially as the musicians have diverse musical backgrounds. I have learned how to listen to other musicians and understand them and their music, and that’s a very important development in my career.

Life is a journey into the future. What musical ‘tools’ are you taking on this journey and what projects have you got lined up for the future?
In my music, I’m interested in working on colour and timbre and that’s why I recently worked with the double-bassist Olivier Moret on a new recording. I’m also working on a new project with Serge Teyssot-Gay.

What do you think are the prospects for artistic creativity in the Middle East, and particularly in Syria, where you live?
We are living in difficult times, but art is like a wild flower – it blossoms and flourishes in mysterious ways.

Do you feel pressurized by having a family or, in fact, does your family give you a sense of equilibrium?
Having a family does bring a certain mental equilibrium, but it also brings responsibilities, which aren’t always easy to cope with.

What do the following words mean to you?

Contemplation: is the harmonious relationship that exists between the part and the whole or the completion of the whole.

Tarab: is about forgetting all the details and everything else, in the presence of beauty.

Ecstasy: is the fusion of what we love.

Silence: is the other side of sound, without which the latter would be ineffectual.

Retirement: is impossible.

Symbiosis: is the return of everything to its origins.

Sincerity: is simplicity.

Self-confidence: comes from knowledge.

Youth: is about being constantly inquisitive.

Women: are the sweeter side of life.

Humility: is fulfilment.

Transparency: is the ability to tear off masks.

Maternity: is creativity.

Reading: builds bridges.

Friendship: is about love and a sense of responsibility.

Accepting decisions made by others that affect you: is rejecting them as vehemently as possible.

Virility in oriental society: is grounded in false convictions.

Iman Ourabi is a Syrian journalist and poetess.
Translated by JD-Trad

  • Reference : 321.091
  • Ean : 3 149 028 014 327
  • Main artist : Khaled Aljaramani (خالد الجرماني)
  • Year of recording : 2011
  • Year of publishing : 2013
  • Music Style : Classical instrumental
  • Country : Syria
  • City of recording : Paris
  • Main language :
  • Composers : Khaled Aljaramani
  • Lyricists :
  • Copyright : Institut du Monde Arabe