CAIRO: Under the dim lights of Cairo Jazz Club (CJC), Swedish-based Tarabband were warming up minutes before what would be a well-received performance in their first ever concert in the Middle East. As the bar filled up Thursday night, Tarabband launched their fusion live show from Egypt, led by vocalist and saz player Nadin al-Khalidi.
Khalidi, Gabriel Hermansson (mandol, guitar), Dan Svensson (percussion), Filip Runesson (violin), Romain Coutama (bass), and Stephan Jarl (percussion) lured the audience into a unique experience of oriental and western folk music. They established the moods of the audience with their special hit songs “Ya Sidi”, “Ya Rayes”, “Baghdad Choby”, and “The Camel Dance.”
They sang for peace, for equality and unity. Before performing “Ya Rayes” (Mr. President), Khalidi said the song “was not addressed to a particular country, leader, or people,” but speaks on a universal level.
“They say that you’re impossible…that you have no patience…that you can get angry, if asked the wrong question…and because I know from the start…that our conversation is endless…you won’t understand our words…as if they come to you from a fairytale…” The lyrics were written by Khalidi and music composed by Runesson.
“I don’t like limitations or rules telling me ‘feel or don’t feel this’ or ‘you can or you can’t’ and that’s what I honestly experience with the band.”
Khalidi said the band was originally invited to Egypt to perform on Bassem Youssef‘s show Al-Bernameg but remained uncertain to the last minute until they found out the show was cancelled. Luckily for the CJC audience, Taraba Band still made it to Egypt and put on an exotic and intriguing performance at one of Cairo’s top music venues.
The Cairo Post met with Khalidi, Hermansson, Svensson, and Jarl right after the show to find out more about the artists who gathered together in Sweden but also come from places like Iraq and France.
TCP: That was quite amazing, your first performance in Egypt! How was it for you?
Hermansson: I would have never expected this kind of venue and audience in Cairo.
Khalidi: I did not know what to expect or how [the audience] would react.
The Arab audience turned from a challenge into a success for Tarabband and they said loved CJC and its audience. “It felt like Europe, like Sweden,” they said.
Tarabband started in 2008, when Khalidi, Hermansson, and Svensson started mixing Arab and Swedish folk music.
Khalidi: So Gabriel, Dan, and I met a couple of times and it was the start. Then we met Stephan and Romain, who we’ve heard playing several times, then Filip.
Khalidi left Iraq ahead of the war in 2002, and sought asylum in Sweden. “She wanted to make her musical dreams come true, besides finding a new identity as a human being and an artist through music and art,” according to Tarabband’s Facebook page.
Khalidi said that most assume that her cause and oriental origins influenced the band’s music style but surprisingly she said the band was the one who encouraged her to sing in Arabic. She had not originally intended to due to her interest to study Western classical music.
Khalidi: When I came to Sweden, I didn’t have any contacts with Arabs, until I met those guys. They actually encouraged me to sing in Arabic. For me, having the origins didn’t necessarily mean I should like or understand everything about Arabic music.
TCP: How did you connect with Arab music?
“Arabic music is exciting,” Tarabband said, who are inspired by classics such as Fairuz, Om Kolthoum, the Rahbani Brothers, and Nathom al-Ghazali.
Svensson: “The first time you hear something you react with fear, like my baby girl, every time she tastes something new, she [Dan makes funny sounds of disgust], then all of a sudden she starts to like it and only wants more and more.”
Hermanson: “It’s exotic, trying to feel the lyrics and make our own interpretation.”
TCP: How do you work together?
Khalidi: Each one of us equally contributes to the production of a song. Sometimes I have in mind certain phrases or word that I thought of and then I think ‘oh, that fits into this melody.’
Stephan Jarl: What we have in common is our interest in the music, we come to meeting point and that is crucial for all of us. The work is inclusive and that is what holds Tarabband together.
Jarl cherishes the “meeting point,” which he also refers to as “counterpoint,” according to Tarabband’s official website.
“It’s the key for interaction, playfulness, and balance between music, musicians, melody, dancers, and moves when all are in a meeting with audience. And in order to pass forward this mysterious energy to the audience, you need discipline and an honest participation in this explosive musical moment.”
Khalidi: You have your influences, you have your opinions, let’s put them together, and maybe there will be a good ‘koshary’ or good sushi; both are great!
The ‘Choby’ song
Hermansson: After listening to the original ‘choby’ sounds from Iraq, we thought we should have our own version of Choby, Tarabband’s own composition. I wrote the melody and then gave Nadin a version where I sang in Arabic, with words totally made up.”
Nadin gives The Cairo Post a demonstration of the traditional Choby steps, as Svensson plays percussion sounds on the table.
TCP: So after the first experience for the band in Egypt, any plans to mingle into the Middle East?
Mohamed el-Alfy, owner of Grand Creation Studios, Tarabband’s agent says: “I think we need to concentrate in Egypt. Tarabband got a good feedback here and I think all those underground music bands emerging after the revolution have a kind of music that is distinguished. Maybe we can cooperate with other Egyptian bands to mix between our style with theirs.”
Khalidi: “We want to expand the audience, maybe get out of clubs’ regular audience, and perform in the street. Big concerts for free for the thousands and millions of people out there, millions and thousands, do something for the people.”
For Tarabband, music knows no borders and audience is not categorized by geographic locations. Settled in Malmo, Tarabband’s music aspires to reaching out to all people. They sing for freedom and unity, they are free spirited, open for different music genres, and “there is no one way to do it,” as Khalidi said.