Men In Speedos

by Yazz Ahmed

I keep finding myself in a dreamlike state. I’m constantly wandering around in my thoughts, dipping my toes into pools of visions which reflect future goals, ambitions, desires.

I’m sometimes inspired by these daydreams but also daunted by the realisation of what it will take for these ideas to bear fruit. Ah well. I can only try.

I’m still revisiting memories from a much needed holiday to Italy two months ago - the first in five years!

The bear and I stayed in an old farm house in the middle of nowhere for ten days. It was absolute bliss.

We were high up in the mountains overlooking massive forests and vineyards - apparently home to lynxes (according to wikipedia) - with a garden full of plum trees and, unfortunately, hundreds of mosquitoes.

We did hear some peculiar animal sounds at night and once a massive bang from the body of a large creature being smashed against the wall of the house during a fight…

The weather was gorgeous and hot enough to go swimming in the nearby river, with it’s rocky pools and natural jacuzzis.

I didn’t want to leave. It was idyllic. However, I wasn’t over keen about seeing topless women, and men in speedos wherever I looked at the local pool or river!

Thinking back, I also remember being bothered by someone following me around the house playing sad songs on an accordion while I was trying to do the washing-up…

I’m not particularly good at holidays. I still had a massive amount of writing to complete in time for the first rehearsal of my fellowship suite and I had to practise for the next Ahmed Family Hafla gig, which was the day after our return. So, I did have to work a bit. I think I’ll be better at resting on my next holiday as I think I’ve nearly got the hang of it now!

A few hours after returning home to the cottage, I was off to play at the Canary Wharf Jazz Festival. It was our first time there as a band so we were all really excited.

Despite the weather there was a very large and enthusiastic audience, and the sound on stage was fantastic - the glass skyscrapers providing a very expensive sounding reverb.

After the gig, I met a really sweet lady who was inspired to write this beautiful poem live, in reaction to our performance:

The ripples of the trumpet

Electro-jazz, a sax joins,

Overlaps, dominates,

Brushed drums, glockenspiel

Beat, rhythm rippling the ground

Escaping vertically, the space of

Grey glass towers of Canary Wharf

Exploding the omnipresent grey

Of civilisation

Jazz, sound-colours expand

Fire-work like, scatters in the

Sky, ground, minds of the

Grass strewn audience

 

The snake-charmer trumpet

And saxophone

Hauntingly, meditate,

Wind the thread tighter

Reeling us in

Pulling us closer

Melting our resistance

Hypnotic notes, harmonies,

Like shifting sands

Ebb and flow

Thoughts wander freely

Creating, constructing, resolving

Discordant-raindrops of piano

Break the spell

Interrupt private musings

Cascade upon the consciousness

Wrapping one in moments passed

The flush of a strangers kiss

On warm, lush lips,

The glance of the stranger,

Radiating across the distance,

Quelling that space,

Compelling you to read their stare

Listen to the music, melodies

Tumbling about your ears

Reminisce on tubular bells

Maelstrom

Whirlpool of memories

 

Further whirling us

One after the other

Upon the sound

Notes of Jean-Michel Jarre,

Oxygene, reach me.

 

I’ll be sharing some audio and hopefully video clips from this gig soon.

A few weeks later I started the final preparations for the premiere of the suite I had composed for the Fellowship awarded to me by Birmingham Jazzlines and The Jerwood Charitable Foundation.

Over the course of a year I worked extremely hard composing and arranging a nine-movement suite of songs and instrumental interludes called, Alhaan Al Siduri - which means Melodies for Siduri.

The piece is inspired by the work songs of the Bahraini pearl divers and the wedding songs of the women drumming groups of Bahrain.

The creative process began last October with a trip to Bahrain where I attended a private concert given by the pearl divers of Muharraq. They explained the background to these traditional, secular work songs, each relating to a different aspect of the work of diving for pearls.

Pearl diving has been taking place in Bahrain for thousands of years, the fishermen would be away from shore for weeks at a time, free diving with no equipment. Each boat would employ a professional singer, both to inspire the men in their work but also to keep them in good spirits when they might miss their loved ones.

I’ll never forget the powerful, soaring voices, the infectious rhythms from the clapping and drumming, as well as witnessing the trance-like state of the singers which increased as the music developed.

During my stay I also did some research on the songs of the women’s groups, rushing around bookshops looking for wedding song lyrics and poems, listening to the many CDs given to me by family and friends, and enjoying the rare treat of my grandfather singing me songs from his own wedding day.

The field recordings I made of the Pearl Divers songs not only inspired my compositions but fragments and processed sound effects, made from the source material, also found their way into the fabric of the music.

With help from my very dear and talented friend, Jason Singh, I created new sounds, loops and textures, from the recordings and began to get a feel for the shape and feel of the music I would be writing.

I found writing Alhaan Al Siduri pretty challenging as I had never written songs before, only instrumental music. Some of my songs were in Arabic too, which I’m not fluent in…thankfully I got some help from Alya Marquardt who also sang on the gig too.

It was such a pleasure having my Hafla band and guests Brigitte Beraha, Alya Marquardt, and Jason Singh perform this new suite with me.

I must say that when it came to the concert I was really worried as the audience were totally silent throughout! I was convinced during the entire ninety-minute gig that they hated it….However, they went mad at the end and gave us a standing ovation. Phew!

The Jazz Mann (Ian Mann), wrote a really wonderful review if you’re interested:

http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/yazz-ahmed-alhaan-al-siduri-cbso-centre-birmingham-03-10-2015/

The British Council also interviewed me before the big day:

http://music.britishcouncil.org/news-and-features/2015-10-02/yazz-ahmed-interview-alhaan-al-siduri

I have plans to get Alhaan Al Siduri performed again and recorded in 2017. My ultimate dream would be to take this music and my band to Bahrain and play it there.

My dad has never actually seen me play before which makes me feel quite sad. It’s a difficult one for me, my mum and dad divorcing when I was around nine or ten, moving to another country and leaving one family behind….You don’t really think much about it as a kid, you just go along with it all, but as an adult you realise how all those events have effected you, your behaviour and life…anyway, this makes me all the more determined to take my music further and to one day play in Bahrain.

Right, so, what’s happening in the next few days? On the 30th of October I’ll be playing at the BBC Broadcasting House with my quartet as part of the BBC Arabic Festival. I’m really excited about this and it looks like it’s going to be a really interesting festival:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-34186577

I’m also playing at the Nour Festival, another Arabic festival I strongly recommend checking out.

The gig is with my Hafla band at the Pheasantry in Chelsea on the 3rd of November, but with a slightly different line-up: George Crowley, bass clarinet; Naadia Sheriff, keys; Ralph Wyld, vibes; Dudley Phillips, bass guitar; Hossam Ramzy, percussion; and Martin France, drums.

https://www.rbkc.gov.uk/subsites/nour/events/music2015/yazzahmed.aspx

I also did a little interview with Maha Rahwanji, as part of a programme on K2K radio, promoting the Nour Festival:

https://www.mixcloud.com/ktokradio/mahas-music-the-nour-festival-featuring-yazz-ahmed-bushra-al-turk-enas-masalha/

I’m also very proud to announce that I am a new LSO Soundhub Composer. During this year-long development scheme, I’ll get to work with world class musicians from the LSO, be given fantastic support, expert coaching and access to the wonderful facilities at LSO St. Luke’s. I’ll be writing music for quarter-tone flugelhorn, bass clarinet, marimba, violin and percussion for a concert next summer. More about this soon!

Other stuff coming up is a tour with the 1980’s legends, ABC (get out your gold lamé suits!) and a couple of things on at the EFG London Jazz Festival.

Here’s some info about the tour with ABC:

http://www.abcmartinfry.com

At this year’s EFG London Jazz Festival I’ll be playing with my quartet at Ray’s Jazz in Foyles Bookstore on the 18th, and leading one of three workshops on the 22nd. The other workshops are with Peter Edwards and Cath Roberts. Here’s some more info:

http://www.foyles.co.uk/event-jazz-festival-2015-jazz-ahmed

http://www.efglondonjazzfestival.org.uk/events/info/jazz-workshops-for-young-musicians

Okay. So that’s it for now. Time to put the kettle on.