Naïssam Jalal

© Jeff Humbert

Naïssam Jalal was born in Paris to Syrian parents; her father is a painter. ‘I was just born there‘, says—humorously—this young lady from the Paris suburbs: she grew up in Torcy in the Seine-et-Marne department before living in Saint-Denis (Seine-Saint-Denis department), possibly the youngest and most cosmopolitan commune in France. Naïssam’s vocation was encouraged by the dancer and classical and jazz double bass player Michel Thouseau. When he played at the opening of an exhibition by Naïssam’s father, he invited the young girl to join in his improvisation. ‘The improvisation liberated me. With no sheet music, I had the feeling of expressing myself with my music for the first time‘, remembers the flautist.

Naïssam, who had studied classical flute since she was 6, discovered improvisation when she was 17. After gaining her diploma, she left the conservatoire and joined Tarace Boulba, an association band playing funk, afrobeat, ska and reggae founded in 1993 and open to all musicians, and she went on a tour to Mali with them.

At 19, Naïssam went back to her roots, spending several months learning the nay at the Higher Institute of Music in Damascus and studying in Cairo with the master Abdu Dagher, the fabulous violinist who had accompanied the incredible Oum Kalthoum (1898-1975). The young flautist played with Fathy Salama, innovative in the linking of the Egyptian tradition with other kinds of music around the world. Back in Europe in 2006, she played in various countries and in particular in France where she accompanied the Lebanese rapper Rayess Bek.

Naïssam plays everything—rap, jazz, tango, Mande music, Arabic maqam. An artiste with no frontiers, she accompanies the Malian composer Cheick Tidiane Seck and the American percussionist Hamid Drake. For her own compositions, she invited the Malian singer Mamani Keïta and the Algerian Amazigh Kateb, son of the writer Kateb Yacine (1929-1989) and played at recording sessions from when she was 18 before her own work was published in her first album in 2006. In 2011, Naïssam formed her group Rhythms of Resistance, a quintet with which she made two recordings. In 2016, she published the album Almot wala almazala (‘Death rather than humiliation’) in which she renders homage to the martyrs of the Syrian revolution.

She also composes music for the cinema and the theatre.

Bouziane Daoudi
Translated by Simon Barnard

Available album : Liqaa