Saturday night witnessed the first ever performance of the Basel Rajoub Quartet’s soon-to-be-released album “Asia,” at the Sunflower Theater in Tayyouneh. The group’s four musicians have different musical backgrounds and influences, but came together five months ago to try to create something new, a modern take on classical oriental music which they call “fusion oriental.”
“Oriental music does not mean Arab music,” says saxophonist Basel Rajoub. “It’s a mix between Iranian music, Turkish music, Armenian music and Syrian music.”
The band is made up of Basel Rajoub on the saxophone, Khaled Yassine providing percussion, Feras Shahrestane on qanun and Elie Afif on double bass.
Rajoub, who graduated as a classical trumpet player in his native Syria, dreams of playing traditional oriental music on the saxophone, but admits it is hard. “I can’t play all the scales on the saxophone,” he says. “I can’t play like the oud players or the qanun players ... so I’m trying to do something modern.”
Their music is complex and melodic, demonstrating influences not just from the Middle Eastern region, but also from Asia, as the album title suggests. The beat from Yassine’s hand drums also suggests African inspiration.
The influence of classical Turkish music is particularly apparent, the classical qanun adding considerable depth to the band’s sound.
The title track, “Asia,” named after Rajoub’s sister, was a particular favorite with the audience, featuring a wide variety of musical influences. Rajoub’s creativity and skill on the saxophone enable him to use the instrument in several ways, at times passionately belting out brassy solos while in other passages eliciting a soulful, breathy tone, very similar to the sound of a classical Turkish ney, a wooden end blown flute.
As in Turkish classical music there was a lot of interaction between the saxophone and the qanun. Both instruments carried the tune, at times playing together, the qanun giving the reedy voice of the saxophone a pleasing metallic edge, and at times engaging in a playful call and response, echoing each other in short bursts.
Many of the tracks remain untitled, and one such track, a duet between qanun and saxophone, proved another undoubted audience favorite, with Shahrestane’s wistful solo on the qanun demonstrating his incredible technical skill and eliciting a round of applause mid-song.
The qanun is an essential element of the band’s sound, which at times seemed a little thin and unfinished without its harp-like melodies, which rounded out the sound of the percussion, bass and saxophone.
Overall the music was well received, and merited a better turn out. The small theater was only two-thirds full, which did not do justice to the quality of the music.
The concert was part of a series of three organized by Edict Records, an independent label based in Beirut which was started by four friends with a passion for music just over a year ago. Their goal is to find the best modern musicians and produce their music with the care and respect for individuality it deserves.
“The music is mainstream,” says Hani Siblini, a partner in Edict Records. “It’s not something complicated; it’s not for elite people. It’s very simple music that’s modern. That’s the goal.”
The three concerts last week showcased the work of three of the four groups currently signed to the label, the Tarek Yamani Trio, Kristijan Krajncan and the Basel Rajoub Quartet. The upcoming albums of all four groups are expected to be released in the next few months .
THE Daily Star .