Rocks Off combs through Craigslist's postings hoping to find the genesis of some great musical endeavor. So when we saw a posting looking for Arabic singers, we were intrigued.
After all, this is a time of mosque burnings and our upstairs neighbors passing anti-Sharia laws. It must take a hefty bag to start an Arabic music project. We sat down with keyboardist Alshed Al-Badri to learn some more about it.
Rocks Off: Are you looking for an Arabic speaker, or just someone of Arabic descent?
Alshed Al-Badri: Doesn't matter.
RO: What kind of musical project are you putting together?
AA-B: Doesn't really matter, but all Arabic music and songs.
RO: Are you looking for a male or female singer, or does it matter?
AA-B: Doesn't matter.
RO: Uhhh... could you elaborate, or tell us more? This isn't really much of an article so far.
AA-B: What exactly do you want to know? It is hard to explain. I mean if you were Arabic you would know what I am talking about. May I ask you what exactly you want to do with my ad?
RO: Here's is a man looking for Arabic singers, presumably to perform some kind of traditional Arabic music... a subject about which we are, admittedly, completely ignorant. Judging by the news, we're not alone.
We've watched this country grow more and more anti-Arabic and anti-Islamic, and we think someone starting a creative project based on a culture a great deal of Americans seem to currently fear for some reason is brave and cool. It's punk rock, in a way.
We want to know what you're going to do and why, because it's different and unique as far as we can tell.
AA-B: I have a better understanding of what you are looking for now. I am a self-taught keyboard player and composer born in Basra, Iraq. At a young age, my family moved to Paris, where we lived until I was 15. At this time, we moved back to Iraq. I have performed with different bands and singers, including orchestral groups.
Several years ago I had a band consisting of two keyboard players, a bass guitarist, a guitar player and a drummer. Most Eastern bands consist only of a keyboard player, a tabla player (a hand drum), a violinist and a l'ud player (a 12-stringed guitar). We performed at colleges, weddings and parties in my home city of Basra. We were pretty popular and had great fun. We also performed at the huge international music festival held each year in the city of Babylon.
Our band was often requested because the makeup of our band, but also because we not only performed Eastern-style music, we also performed Western music oldies like "Hotel California." I admittedly have more to learn, but genuinely love playing and am moved by music.
When the political climate started to change, the lifestyle began to become more conservative. At first it just became basically looked down upon to be a grown man and a professional musician. So our band performed less frequently. After the fall of Saddam's regime, and in particular once Al-Qaeda moved into Iraq, we were basically forbidden to play. If we played it would have been in very private, male only settings and would have had security risks.
I stopped playing altogether, even in the privacy of my home for ten years. I moved to the U.S. in September 2009 due to a special Visa program created by Congress. I had to leave my keyboards behind since I was not able to bring much of my personal belongings.
Within a few months of coming to Houston, I was fortunate enough with the help of a friend and some great folks at Guitar Center, to purchase a new keyboard exactly as I played in Iraq.
I love the freedom I have here; the freedom to practice, to play and to perform. Eastern music is hugely different than Western music in terms of style. Also in terms of technique. For example, in addition to the whole-note scale we also use a quarter-note scale.
As you know, there are differences in the instruments too. For example in my city, there is an instrument not found any place else. It is a small hand drum made from the skin of a cat that can only be tuned by spitting on it.
My idea now is to gain exposure in the Houston music community while I continue to relearn what I put aside for so many years and also develop musically. I hope to meet with different musicians to gain more knowledge of Western music.
I would sincerely love to blend Eastern technique and sound with some Western pop and rap performers. I have a particular sound that I've matched with a Pussycat Dolls song and have some ideas for style like Akon, John Legend, and Seal.
I love playing Eastern music but also really enjoy Western R&B, Rock and some country. I particularly like music that blends sounds of different instruments. In Eastern music we use a lot of violin mixed with drums, guitars and keyboards.
You asked how we can have a band with just two keyboard players. Of course it is preferred to have a variety of musicians, but when we don't have this option, the keyboard serves as several musicians.
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I blend the different instruments into one recording and play them together so the singer has the support of a full band behind him or her.
I am currently looking to find an Arabic singer, male or female, to perform with so that I can get to know the Houston music scene. For my day job, I work at YMCA International Services with the Refugee Resettlement Department. We aid hundreds of refugees from all over the globe each year resettle and rebuild lives in Houston.
Any performers interested in working with Alshed should contact him at alshedalbadri at yahoo dot com.
Jef With One F is the author of The Bible Spelled Backwards Does Not Change the Fact That You Cannot Kill David Arquette and Other Things I Learned In the Black Math Experiment, available now.